by Beki Pineda
THE REMBRANDT – Written by Jessica Dickey; Directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Presented at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut) through March 3. Tickets available at 303-444-7328 or BETC.org
Grief tied together in four scenes. The ever-lasting yearning to leave a legacy – to be remembered. The power of art to communicate the human condition even across the generations. These large subjects are tackled with grace and humor in BETC’s current production.
Three museum guards – one new, one experienced and dedicated, the third a calm but privately troubled mentor – meet in a gallery to start their work day. They are joined by an amateur painter who wishes to copy a Rembrandt painting being displayed in the room. Through their conversation, we learn that Henry (the mentor to the new guard) is caring for his dying partner. Madeline (the copyist) just lost her beloved grandmother. Madeline and Dodger (the new guard) make a connection and are soon discussing the possibility of breaking all the rules by touching the art. Unheard of – can’t be done. But . . . would anything happen if they did?
A channel opens up to Rembrandt’s studio in 1653. We watch as Rembrandt bemoans the necessity of taking a commission from a rich but unworthy Italian to paint a picture of a “philosopher.” Rembrandt’s lifestyle – nice houses, extravagant gifts for his wife Henny, elegant clothes – demands that he take this kind of paint-on-demand type of work. As he begins to prepare the canvas in a special but unorthodox way, his wife and son Titus arrive to commiserate with him over his insecurity about his personal legacy. Will anyone ever remember these trivial pictures he creates for his no-class clients? As he begins to work on “Aristotle With a Bust of Homer” now recognized as one of his best works of art, we enter Scene 3 and meet Homer.
Homer in 800 BC also ponders whether anyone will ever read The Iliad out loud as it was meant to be performed. He also contemplates the irony of the length of time it takes to really get to know someone and then too soon, they are gone. No one seems to realize their greatness while they are living it. All doubt that it will live into the future. Yet The Iliad is still taught to Classical Literature students the world over.
Finally we come back to the original character of Henry as he comes home to spend time with his dying partner also named Homer. They share pudding cups and reminisce about their earlier days. This Homer too wonders if anyone will ever read any of his eight books of poetry again. The immortal desire to be remembered rises once more.
It seems we must utilize all of our senses and create for ourselves the best life possible while we are in it and have faith that what is worthy in us will live on – either in our personal art or in the lives of our children and children’s children. Rembrandt’s Golden Chain of Being that connects Earth to Heaven in the studied painting reminds us of the chain of lives that link us to our ancestors and to our future.
This talented cast of five slide easily from character to character, era to era to bring the four scenes to life. Eric Sandvold is a gentle accepting Henry and a ribald Rembrandt. Jihad Milhem plays a dedicated museum guard who cares for Henry in the first scene and a compassionate medical caregiver who takes care of Henry’s partner in the fourth scene. Adrian Egolf’s natural charm enhances her characters of Madeline, the troubled copyist who finds herself coming out of grief and opening up to friendship, and Henny, Rembrandt’s understanding wife. Spencer Althoff with his handmade Mohawk plays the cheeky new museum guard and Titus, Rembrandt’s caring son. Jim Hunt brings his special magic to both Homer’s – ancient Greek and modern day cancer victim poet.
BETC does it again – found a script that provides entertainment and shines a light on the human condition and gives us a technically perfect production of it.
A WOW factor of 9!!