Step back and take another look. What you see might be very different. What you hear might be very different also. Impressionism, a new play by Michael Jacobs, has the sharks out on Broadway. Ready for the kill. Rumors are rife of it being torturous to sit through. Audiences were fleeing after the first act in previews. Confused. The creative team, headed by director Jack O’Brien, has been repairing and revising. Two acts have been condensed to one. An impossible makeover, the sharks would say. They would be wrong.
Do not be intimidated by the title. Impressionism is not totally about art, although the visuals are absolutely beautiful to look at – it is an unabashed love story told in a somewhat abstract manner. From the present to the past we follow the story of art gallery owner, Katharine Keenan (Joan Allen) who finds it difficult to part with any of her works and her assistant – photographer Thomas Buckle (Jeremy Irons) who is trying to make some sales. She is a very complicated woman and we discover how much so and why in flashbacks with her parents at age six and while posing for the artist, Palmer Wilson at age thirty.
We also go back in time with Thomas, the photographer. To Africa. Where he meets the sweet potato man (Andre de Shields) and photographs a little boy in a tree that is for sale in the gallery. Back and forth we go. Seamlessly. The set design by Scott Pask, projections by Elaine J. McCarthy, lighting by Natasha Katz and original music by Bob James all keep the action flowing and the pictures on exhibit between scenes a marvel to behold. Catherine Zuber has done an artful job with her chic and stylish costumes. So, Impressionism is a feast for the eyes.
Now, the play. It is extremely funny and immensely touching and moving as it reaches the end of its ninety minutes running time. Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons are simply terrific. She, all efficiency and he of superior intelligence and wry humor. Their developing relationship is a pleasure to watch. These two have been through a lot. And this play shows that even at a certain age there is hope where hope had been dashed before or thought to be lost forever. Hope that you can find someone, somewhere that you can share your time with and be happy just sitting together on a bench in the park. You just have to step back and look at life from a different perspective. Sentimental some will say. But it’s lovely.
Marsha Mason portraying an ultra rich grandmother to be in search of purchasing a Cassatt comes on stage looking fabulous and acting like gangbusters with some of the funniest lines in the show. Not to be outdone, however, by Andre de Shields in dual roles. He is a wonderful as the sweet potato man and glorious as the muffin man. His description of the “bench painting” is hilarious and heartfelt. Michael Weiss as a would be suitor who has an item on consignment with Katherine is just right. As young Katharine, Hadley Delany has not much to do, due to cuts I’m sure – but is fine. The always terrific Aaron Lazar has also met the same fate, but delivers as Ben Joplin, a just about to be married guy with his girl friend (Margarita Levieva) who wants to buy the “bench painting”. He nails every laugh and then some.
Jack O’Brien and company have succeeded in making Impressionism the extreme makeover hit of the season.
Limited Engagement. Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre 236 West 45 Street