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A CurtainUp Review
The Theory of Color

The Theory of Color

When do we stop acting with our minds, and let our emotions seep onto the canvas?— EL-eh-na on her artistic frustrations.

Warning: Marrying Italian women may be hazardous to your social life. This, it would seem, is the only message of Lella Heins' new play The Theory of Color in production as part of Medicine's Show's Jump-Start series. More a collision of two half-conceived plots than a complete work, Heins' uneven representation of a Italian-born artist's transition into a small New England town is entertaining at times, but ultimately lacks the coherence that would create a deeper meaning.

If only Heins had made this play into a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Italian painter named Elena (Celeste Moratti, native Italian herself) marries Tom Ward, doctor (Niall O'Hegarty). He grows tired of New York and they move to an island off the coast of Maine. If you decide to explore the local oddities, turn to page 33. If you decide to ignite firey, oh-so-stereotypically-Italian passionate relationship struggles with your husband, turn to page 65.

As it is, the switching back and forth between the two adventures keeps either from coming into focus. Either would have made a perfectly passable play. Heins' writing is slightly more engaging in the local flora plot: Mrs. Van Damm, typical Hamptons wife and chair of the island's medical committee (played with impeccable comic timing by Charlotte Patton) has the best lines of the evening. In the relationship plot the themes are less sitcom and more original, but the scenes of sexual and emotional frustration get repetitive quickly. Elena is unhappy in the small town: She can't paint and she can't make love to her husband if he's on call. Elena is unhappy in the small town: She can't paint and she can't make love to her husband if he's on call. Elena is unhappy in the small town: She can't paint and she can't make love to her husband if he's on call. By around the third repetition, the other, more absurdist adventure is a breath of fresh air. Who cares that Young, About-to-be-Married Couple Cindy (Kathryn Savannah) and Adam (Geoff Wigdor) could have stepped right out of a soap opera? Or that Robin Sharp's schizophrenia is so stereotyped it's almost offensive? Or that Father Rieznick's back-story is as predicable as yet another Catholic diocese's out-of-court settlement? At least there's variety.

Alexander Harrington's direction is capable. However, he runs into difficulties blending together the assortment of dream sequences, audience addressing soliloquies and real-time action, though "action" may be too strong a word.

Celeste Moratti brings a thoughtfulness to Elena that keeps her from descending into a flat, pouty stereotype. As her husband, Niall O'Hegarty is a perfectly studied "normal" guy, eerily unnatural. Also notable is James Nugent's well-worn performance as the weary, alcoholic Father Rieznick. The rest of the ensemble fills in as the almost absurdly predictable townsfolk in a workman-like fashion.

Tony Penna's lighting and set design uses the space and resources well, while Viviane Galloway's costumes are functional, if not inspired.

The Theory of Color is presented as part of Medicine Show's Jump-Start series, after receiving a staged reading last year. If Heims chooses to continue with this work, and I hope she does, reshuffling the action to create one coherent plot will help solidify the work. As it is now, the audience is left turning the pages back and forth, trying vainly to keep up with two divergent adventures.

The Theory of Color
Written by Lella Heins
Directed by Alexander Harrington
Cast: Alexandra Devin (Robin Sharp), Celeste Moratti (Elena Ward), James Nugent (Father Rieznick), Niall O'Hegarty (Tom Ward), Charlotte Patton (Mrs. Van Damm), Kathryn Savannah (Cindy Rossetti), Geoff Wigdor (Adam Berg)
Scenic Design and Lighting Design: Tony Penna
Costume Design: Viviane Galloway
Paintings: Caterina Bertolotto
Running Time: 2 hours including one 10 minute intermission
Medicine Show Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St., 3rd Floor, 212.868.4444
From 7/12/07 to 7/29/07; opening 7/20/07
Tuesday-Saturday 8:00pm; Sunday 4:00pm
Tickets: $18.00
Reviewed by Summer Banks on 7/13/07
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