BWW Review: UNFINISHED WORKS Challenges The Idea That Names Mean More Than The Underlying Substance In Art And In Life
Wednesday 30th March 2016, 7:30pm, Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
Thomas de Angelis' UNFINISHED WORKS contemplates the value society places on recognition rather than actual quality and doing what makes money versus what really means something. Presented through the world of an acclaimed painter and a confused student, Director Clemence Williams has ensured this seemingly elitist drama remains relatable as it is translatable to other facets of society.
Designer Charlie Davis has transformed the black box stage of the Reginald Theatre into a lightwood lined windowless room serving a range of locations through vertical variety and distinct differences in dressing. As the audience enters, two artists are upstage, working on canvases on either side of the stage. One, a younger girl in her early 20's, has basic equipment of a milk crate, is dancing to music as she daubs paint between considered contemplation. The other, a frustrated woman in her 30's, with a slightly more sophisticated set up of a ladder, stands before a blank canvas, alternating between mixing paint and anxiously planning moves without making a mark. A contemporary lounge setting sits on the risen central dias at the rear of the stage between two entryways. .
Through a meeting at a disused warehouse it unfolds that the 30 something woman is a famous painter, Frank Ralcoh (Lucy Goleby) whose work hangs in major galleries like the Museum of Contemporary Art. The middle aged man, Vince Martin (Rhett Walton) is a successful property developer, ignorant of Frank's fame, simply wanting to return her canvases before he demolishes the building. Frank's world gets intertwined with Vince's as his only daughter Isabel (Contessa Treffone), an architecture student with a secret love of art, visits her father and recognizes Frank and ends up pursuing her as a mentor.
Goleby presents the apparently talented Frank with a degree of arrogance about her art as she refuses to sell a work to a collector that won't put the painting on public display. Goleby expresses Frank's uncompromising belief that she should only be creating work that means something and expresses something of herself. She presents the inner conflict as Frank comes to the realization that her latest work may not have been as good as the critics claimed and that she may be receiving accolades based on a reputation rather than a honest assessment of the current work. Through the performance she presents Frank's frustration, confusion, self-doubt, anger, passion and egotism as she moves between the arrogant artist refusing to admit that she's "blocked" and dismissive of her young fan, to discovering that unfinished works she'd expected to be destroyed have been kept by the property developer for no other reason than to impress visitors.
In contrast to Frank's confidence and arrogance, Contessa Treffone gives aspiring artist Isabel a wide eyed adoration and desire for validation from her idol. Treffone gradually lets the audience see that the eager young student has never really had the chance to make choices for herself, having had her overbearing parents, particularly her mother, set a path for her regardless of her own wants and needs. As Isabel spends time with Frank, we see her mature and Treffone expresses the young girl's inner conflict and growth with the awkwardness of youth and the sensitivity of one trying not to hurt anyone she cares about but ultimately learning that she has to stand up to those she loves.
As Isabel's father, Rhett Walton presents Vince Martin as a somewhat self-absorbed man as evidenced by the seemingly endless one sided conversation he has with Frank as they tour the warehouse. Whilst Vince wants Isabel to be successful, he appears to be closer to his daughter, wanting her to work with him so he can spend time with her, and showing understanding when he realizes she needs to make her own choices. In contrast, Deborah Gabinos presents his wife Paula, apparently a successful lawyer, as a cold hearted callous social climber with little regard for her daughter's feelings and displaying little integrity. Of the parents, its Paula who seems more hell bent on ensuring Isabel is "successful" and seen at the right events and networking with the right people. Whilst the audience may feel compassion for Vince as he realizes his daughter needs to do things her way, Gabinos' presentation of Paula doesn't elicit the same sympathy.
Rounding out the ensemble is Kyle Kazmarzik as Frank's best friend and agent, the art dealer Jimmy. Kazmarzik's portrayal of Jimmy as flamboyant and hot headed adds some comedy relief as his larger than life expression counters Frank's sullenness. He has wonderful comic timing, facial expressions and physicality that draws on the stereotypical beautiful young gay man whilst trying to convince Frank to make use of her name and reputation to make them both rich.
Whilst cantered on what could be considered a very elitist and niche market of expensive contemporary art and the 'first world problems' of the rich and powerful and their entitled children, the concepts de Angelis' contemplates in UNFINISHED WORKS can be applied to more 'common' situations. In terms of the analogy drawn from the art, do we buy brands for the name rather than questioning if the quality is maintained and do we applaud celebrities regardless of their actual talent? When looking at Isabel's growth, do we value money over happiness and do we allow ourselves, and the people we love to express what we really want for ourselves?
UNFINISHED WORKS is a thought provoking production that gives an insight into a creative world that many people don't consider whilst also examining human relationships. There is humor and hurt, love and loss, trust and betrayal, as both women learn and grow.
23 March - 2 April 2016
Reginald Theatre, The Seymour Centre