If You Ask Me
By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle
“The Rembrandt” on the Boards at TheaterWorks in Hartford
An okay play in a pretty good production is the current offering at TheaterWorks Hartford. Jessica Dickey’s “The Rembrandt” deals with the nature of death and mortality and has Rembrandt’s classic artwork, “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer”, as its (unseen) focal point. The play is a chatty ordeal at times only coming to satisfying dramatic life late in the evening. The play is 90 minutes and performed without intermission. It is long enough.
Dickey’s play is divided into four acts each named after the only colors Rembrandt used in his work: white, red, ochre and black. It starts in a modern art gallery where museum guard Henry (Michael Chenevert) welcomes new employee Dodger (Ephraim Birney, terrific!) and art student Madeline (Amber Reauchean Williams).
They are drawn to the Rembrandt painting and finally, ignoring the rules, decide to all touch it at the same time. We are then taken back in time to 1653 Amsterdam where Rembrandt (Chenevert), his son (Birney) and wife (Reauchean) are introduced. The time travel continues back to 800 BC where we meet Homer (Michael Bryan French) regaling us with his philosophy and finally to a contemporary hospital where Henry’s partner of 35 years (French) is dying of stage four cancer. Kudos to French who was a last minute replacement for Covid-stricken Bill Buell and carried on like the pro he is.
There are no complaints for the acting company here (which includes Brandon Espinoza) and under Maria Mileaf’s unfussy direction they are all alive and dedicated to a difficult script. Birney, in particular, sporting an eye-catching Mohawk as Dodger and frizzy curly top as the younger Rembrandt, is a joy to watch in both his roles. But the play chugs along with death and dying metaphors that only truly move the viewer at the end when French and Chenevert share the stage and deal with the inevitable. Even though Chenevert is too young for the role and French is performing with script in hand, they both delivered honest and heartfelt performances.
Neil Patel’s resourceful design produces four impressive sets on TheaterWorks limited stage with expressive lighting by Matthew Richards. As for the play, however, it takes far too long for it to state the obvious.
“The Rembrandt” continues at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street in Hartford through Sunday, May 14th. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.