Reminiscent of a pleasant afternoon spent casually strolling through some quiet wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Impressionism is a light sketch focusing on the relationship of two slightly damaged individuals working together in an art gallery. While the passing is pleasant, this is not one of those museum trips where you sit and deeply scrutinize to the greatest depths but rather just stroll while nonchalantly skimming what is around you.
Director Jack O'Brien and his design team are the driving force behind this production, working together to create movement and flow in a script that threatens to be static. Scenic designer Scott Pask works with frames that effortlessly glide in and out of the scenes crafted by O'Brien.The delicate mood is cushioned by dazzling projections by Elaine J. McCarthy and soothing original compositions by Bob James, providing a friendly backdrop in which the characters can exist. Seamless set changes are fully integrated with the piece, neatly button-hooking the scenes and avoiding the blackouts that would have brought this play to a screeching halt.
Joan Allen (Katharine Keenan) is lovely to look at and makes the most of working with a loosely defined character. Jeremy Irons (Thomas Buckle) delivers dry humor and makes a fitting partner for Alle's Katherine. Both leads fill the roles they're given to the best of their extents, but Andre De Shields gives the liveliest performance of this production. Delivering some of the play's strongest lines Shields brings a vivacity to the play that is sorely lacking in the writing of the other characters.
Like the art movement it seeks to imitate, playwright Michael Jacobs focuses more on feeling than analytical thought, leaving an almost intentional vagueness to allow the audience to create their own impressions of these characters. While this could be considered clever, it ultimately exits the realm of Impressionism and sallies in the world of Modern Conceptualism, leaving viewers with the brunt of figuring out how and if these pieces fit together. As a character, Katherine has some interesting insights on love and relationships, but those are never really followed up on or deeply explored. We learn that as a child she loved to be naked and then, at the age of thirty, was reluctant to pose nude for a lover. One could clearly deduce a story that lies between those two ages, but it would have been nice if Jacobs gave us a few more details to play with.
You leave this play, having spent a little under two hours with these characters, and still don't really knowing who they are. If there is deep suffering hidden behind their relaxed facades of coffee and art, it doesn't come across. Instead, these characters seem like wealthy individuals with nothing better to do than sit around, chitchat, and play at being art dealers. Their eventual union is a very predictable ending and provides no real catharsis. It just happens and we're watching it.
Jacobs seems to be stretching for something that is beyond his grasp with this play; even with direction and design that exceeds the merits of the script, it fails to leave much of an impression. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.