BWW Review: THE GUARD at Ford's Theatre
Place yourself in front of your favorite work of art. As you look at it from a safe distance, you notice new things. You remember the first time you saw it or learned about it. Your emotions are so high from it, you don't know what to do next. Then you think, "what if I touched it? What would happen if I reached out and just touched the art?"
It's an impish, terror-inducing thought, and yet, all of the modern characters in Jessica Dickey's THE GUARD have it. Not only that, they wonder why they want to touch the masterpiece, and we are made to ask, how did it even get there in the first place? And what does it mean? What happens when you step away from the beauty you know and go back to the reality you don't yet?
THE GUARD, commissioned by Ford's Theatre as part of the Women's Voices Theatre Festival, crafts the story of one moment and gesture in four parts. It begins during a new museum guard's first day, where he defies his brief training by encouraging the veteran museum guard and a novice painter to join him and touch a Rembrandt masterpiece. Out of this moment comes a sweep back in time to Rembrandt's studio, Homer in ancient Greece, and finally, the aftermath of the moment that begins it all. As the story weaves back and forth through time, its themes dance through grief, beauty and its infinite pursuit, art and its legacy, and what the modern world is rapidly forgetting about all of it.
Playwright Jessica Dickey and her world-premiere work have already won the National Theatre Conference's 2015 Barrie and Bernice Stavis Award, one that celebrates emerging new playwrights, and she has assuredly earned it. Dickey understands the full story of the characters she creates, and she gives the audience enough to find it as well. Not only that, her script has a balance of poignancy and playfulness, and it soars onward with a succintness rarely found in new works. Dickey illustrates the heart, journey and loss of each character, whether it be minor or earth-shattering.
Director Sharon Ott fits this play well into the space. She allows awkward silences to sizzle, and all interactions feel natural. Her cast doesn't necessarily have to interact with their environments to show that they truly live in them, and there is a closeness in every relationship that demonstrates a love of what they are saying. The direction maintains the same balance as the words, and that makes it good.
Scenic Designer JAMES KRONZER has crafted a vivid, immensely impressive series of sets that are vastly different worlds, but serve as fluidly moving puzzle pieces. Kronzer's sets go from subtle museum to a lofty studio to the pillars of an ancient Greek town. The colors almost seem to follow Rembrandt's usual color scheme, a significant addition to the production.
Each cast member in THE GUARD portrays multiple characters. TIM GETMAN goes from a brash, hilarious security guard to a quiet, reassuring caretaker. JOSH STICKLIN is vibrant and carefree as Dodger, an anti-establishment street artist, then switches to the worried, inquistive son of Rembrandt. KATHRYN TKEL shines as grieving new painter Madeline, balancing the happiness of a burgeoning artistic pursuit with the realization that she has nothing else to do. CRAIG WALLACE is electric whimsy as Homer, and MITCHELL HÉBERT holds heartstrings as the affable museum guard and struggling Rembrandt. Collectively, they are a strong team, one that finds ways to resonate with anyone and everyone in their audience.
As residents of the DC area, we are fortunate to have the museums and cultural opportunities that we do. We have loved ones to experience things with, and the constant desire for beauty and discovery. THE GUARD asks its audience members to think about what is being taken for granted, and what has the potential to be forgotten. If you get lost in art, who or what are you leaving behind? If you're about to lose someone, can you ever completely get pieces of that life you had together back? If you are an artist, will your work be remembered, and does it matter? The story reminds us of the fragility of life and relationships, the struggle of coping, and the immense need to continue to support (and hopefully not touch) the things which remind us to be present and alive.
Go see THE GUARD as soon as you can. It is art, it is heartbreak, and it is best described as an excellent night at the theatre.
THE GUARD continues at Ford's Theatre as part of the Women's Voices Theatre Festival through October 18th. The runtime is 90 minutes with an intermission. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the production page. Photo by Scott Suchman.