Monday, March 23, 2015

SIGHT UNSEEN • New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre's production of Donald Margulies' "Sigh Unseen" centers around Jonathan Waxman, a Jewish painter from Brooklyn, whose work has brought him fame and fortune. But a visit to an old flame spurs a look at his success, and his relationship to it, and the hard face-to-face realizations of what got lost along the way.

Jonathan Waxman (Aaron Orion Baker) is in England for his first London art exhibition, and after he makes an unexpected phone call, he pays a visit to his ex-girlfriend from college, Patricia (Emily Baker). Patricia, once Jonathan's muse, has settled into life in Norfolk with her husband, Nick (David Wassilak), an archeologist, who seems to be less than thrilled about hosting this guest. Afterall, a painting of Patricia that Jonathan illustrated still hangs in the farmhouse that Nick and Patricia share.
Aaron Orion Baker (Jonathan), Emily Baker (Patricia)
and David Wassilak (Nick).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
The play darts back-and-forth between Jonathan's time at the farmhouse, and a London interview with Grete (Emily Piro), a German arts reporter, with Jonathan confronting the consequences of his own success, fielding pointed questions about the meaning of his work. There are also scenes that reach back even further, to Jonathan and Patricia's college years. All together, these time shifts paint the full picture of Jonathan's struggles with his Jewish roots, his success, and grasps at closure.

Under the spot-on direction of Bobby Miller, there are strong performances throughout. Aaron Orion Baker's Jonathan is a sympathetic one, easy to bristle at questions about his art, and defensive in a way that hints at deeper issues of assimilation and sacrifice. Emily Baker's Patricia has a strong shell -- resolute in her present -- able to remain in England by marrying Nick after her student visa ran out, but aching underneath about her past with Jonathan.
Aaron Orion Baker (Jonathan) and Emily Piro (Grete).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Wassilak's Nick strikes a great balance between a polite host, bubbling with barely hidden irritation with Jonathan, whom he's no doubt heard more than a few stories about, and the fact that his success has afforded him thousands for work he hasn't even completed yet. Piro's Grete is single-minded, with a wry smile that hints at a pleasure she receives by getting under Jonathan's skin. Dunsi Dai provides the scenic design that includes the farmhouse, an interview space at the art gallery, and Jonathan's childhood bedroom that lies along a wall of NJT's black box space -- where the lives of Jonathan and Patricia take a decided turn, along with a college art studio, where their lives together began. Maureen Berry's lighting design beautifully sets the mood following the action across the space, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes thoughtfully provide insight into each character.

Emily Baker (Patricia) and Aaron Orion Baker (Jonathan).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Only one more weekend to check it out. It's at the New Jewish Theatre until the 29th.


Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Bobby Miller
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through March 29 | tickets: $38 - $40
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 15th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Aaron Orion Baker (Jonathan) and Emily Baker (Patricia).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Aaron Orion Baker* (Jonathan Waxman), Emily Baker (Patricia), David Wassilak (Nick) and Emily Piro (Grete).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Maureen Berry; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Bobby Miller; properties design by Jenny Smith; stage manager, Monica Dickhens.

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