Sight Unseen Prelim Print-3
 
The art world is full of beautifully complex, creative people. Not only do artists have to deal with life in the real world, they often have to cope with their own inner turmoil. 
  
The New Jewish Theatre's production of Sight Unseen is a brilliant illustration of this very subject – the many aspects of a tortured artist's life. 
 
Jonathan is an American painter who travels to London for an opening of a retrospective of his life's work. While Jonathan is happily married – and even has a baby on the way – he is drawn to meet up with his original love/muse, Patricia, who is an ex-pat living in rural England. Patricia is now married to Nick, an archeologist who completes the love triangle.  
 
While it is evident that Jonathan and Patricia still have feelings for one another, they understand they both must live with the consequences of their choices. It is gut wrenching to see how two people who should be with one another are forced to live separate lives – and therein lies the beautiful tragedy of this love story. 
 
While Jonathan is at his art opening, he is interviewed by a German art critic, Grete, who seems to have an ax to grind about the controversial nature of Jonathan's paintings. In particular, one painting that depicts an African-American man having sex with a Caucasian woman on a grave in a desecrated cemetery. There is an issue of whether or not the woman is being taken against her will – and therein lies one of the beautiful tragedies of the struggles for artistic appreciation. Just because the viewer sees something does not mean that was what the artist intended. 
 
This is a philosophical debate meant to be had over many bottles of wine.
 
The script, written by Donald Margulies, is extremely effective with crisp dialogue and well developed characters. Being married to a painter myself, it was easy to put myself in the role of Patricia – the discussions were all too familiar. Engrossing dialogue combined with emotionally authentic performances allowed the audience to become one with the cast. Even the non-linear storytelling works – while flashback scenes usually fall flat, the way Margulies uses previous events to give texture to the main story line is compelling. Just be sure to read the scene time frames in the program to ensure you keep up. 
 
Yes, brilliant. Everything works – the cast is mind-bogglingly sensational, the story is spellbinding, and the set is something that should be studied as a master class in design.
 
Aaron Orion Baker is superb as Jonathan. He completely captures the complex emotional state of the painter. When he is dealing with his feelings towards Patricia he is completely vulnerable. During his interview with Grete he is deliciously arrogant. When he is discussing the nature of art with Nick he is perfectly passionate. The ability to shift emotional gears is no easy task, yet Baker makes it seem effortless. 
 
In the role of Nick, David Wassilak – who was  thoroughly enjoyable in Stray Dog's Love! Valour! Compassion! and once again proves he is a theatrical tour de force. Each of his lines drips with European arrogance and the scenes in which he and Baker vocally spar onstage are captivating.
 
The stand-out performance of the night was turned in by Emily Baker as Patricia.  This was my first time seeing Baker and hopefully will not by my last. The actress has an overwhelming stage presence which serves both her and the audience well – even the look in her eyes was authentic as she attempted to resolve her emotions with Jonathan – to whom she is married to in real life.   
 
If the show has any weakness it has to be the length of the scene changes, but even that aspect can be overlooked due to the charming transition music chosen by Director Bobby Miller. Miller did an amazing job in directing this play by keeping the action moving and the laughs plentiful. Not only is the man an overly talented actor, but his ability to get the most out his actors is admirable. 
 
Sight Unseen is a joy to watch as it unfolds on stage. When you have a story this great and a cast this talented it makes for a night of unforgettable theater. Indeed, this production another jewel in the New Jewish Theatre's already impressive crown. 
 
Sight Unseen plays through March 29th. For show times and ticket prices please visit newjewishtheatre.org
 
You can follow me on Twitter @ReviewerJim
 
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