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|A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
The Picture is a new English translation of Le Tableau, one of Ionesco's less well-known works, but it brims with ideas that certainly don't seem insignificant or out of date: art versus money, success versus happiness and the inherent limits of them all. It inescapably calls up a reference to the Broadway hit, Art, even if it quickly shows itself to be a far different kettle of fish.
It's staged as an appropriately preposterous cartoon that Ian Belton has directed cleanly and briskly. It begins when an artist (Tom Pearl) comes to the office of a big man (Tony Torn) to sell him a painting. Anduin Havens, whose set and costumes strikingly and repeatedly make their own comments in shades of Kermit green, has fashioned an oversized desk. It reflects the man's self image, but even more effectively shrinks his supplicant's stature. Later, the same piece will fluidly serve several other functions as well.
The man is as filled with self-satisfaction over his successes as is the artist over his talent. They negotiate even before the man sees the work of art. ("Price first, aethethics later," he insists.) The artist asks a price of $400,000; before the businessman is finished with him, he's turned this around so the artist is paying him to keep the work. But the man's material success belies his personal failings, summed up by his central question: "Can art replace the woman who is missing in my life?" His problem is compounded by his ugly sister, Alice (Anita Durst), who lives with him.
Durst plays Alice, hunchbacked, nearly crippled and sporting one hand and one rather dangerous claw, to her most deliciously outrageous excess. To the artist, she is a subject of pity; to her brother, an object of scorn. We'll get a better idea why when the artist goes away. Torn plays the man like a blown up balloon, its air ever so slowly escaping, a fearless caricature. It will end with a mad rush of air after which we, and the man, are left gasping for breath.
Ionesco may not be at the top of his form here, but his style is more than evident and his comment is more than accessible. This translation, and Sanctuary Theater Workshop's nice production, gives welcome effect to his priceless language and captures the nature of his verbal gymnastics. "Art is eternal," we are told, but "life is short."