at the Long Beach Playhouse
Richard Martin Hirsch's exquisitely written play was the winner of last year's Long Beach Playhouse New Works Festival. As such, this intimate portrait of two badly wounded people is receiving a much deserved world premiere under the insightful direction of Jo Black-Jacob. A brilliant tapestry of life interwoven with art, Hirsch's drama is set in the hills above Côte d'Azur, where the light has attracted artists for centuries. Vincent Roca's fabulous set is beautifully enhanced by the mystic quality of Fred Cutler's lighting and Ron Wyand's glorious sound design. From beginning to end, D.J. Harner's powerful portrait of Claire and Patrick Rafferty's dynamite portrayal of Jack are riveting. There they are: an elegant, 40-ish, severely depressed divorcée who has retreated behind cold armor, and a handsome, 30-ish, glib stranger who is bleeding beneath his wisecracking façade. With no expected roles to play, their chance encounter in such a romantic spot begins to break through each of their shields.
The story is narrated by Esme (Steve Longmuir), the old local painter-philosopher who sits at an easel on the side of the stage, serving as the playwright's alter ego. Adding color and dimension to the couple's desperation are the hotel maid and butler (charmingly portrayed by Margret McWilliams and Jean-Pierre Gillain). Slowly, like peeling an onion, each layer of Claire's carefully constructed deception is revealed and Jack's troubled subterfuge emerges. Though excruciatingly painful, a healing process begins as the light changes from morning sunrise to alpine glow. Throughout their two-day rendezvous, Esme whispers his timeless wisdom: To make art, you must truly see; seeing leads to knowing; the secret of self-discovery is putting the two together. By the realistic end of the couple's encounter—no fairy tales, thank you—a symbiosis has taken place that extends into the audience. Indeed, light (enlightenment) has a grace, a special healing quality, that is transcendent.
Presented by and at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 2 p.m. Apr. 2-16.) Mar. 17-Apr. 22. (562) 494-1014. www.lbph.com.
Reviewed by Shirle Gottlieb