Off the Wall Theatre explores art and truth in an ambitious drama on its cozy, little stage late this Winter. Director/playwright Dale Gutzman’s The Glance rumbles through the Renaissance in a dramatically unflinching look at the life of Italian painter Caravaggio. The action plays out in the cluttered, little studio of the painter as he engages with commercial concerns in the era of the Bubonic Plague. Life and death hang on every edge of the drama as the painter is forced to deal with compromise in the interest of survival and possible fame as balanced against artistic integrity and an open embrace of reality through art.
Over the years, Dale Gutzman’s writing/directing work has been hit-or-miss. Without question, The Glance is a hit. Gutzman shrewdly brings four central characters to the stage who are all intensely interesting. Four very talented actors give Gutzman’s script a complexity that makes for a deeply engaging drama.
Max Williamson is ruggedly charming as Caravaggio. He’s a man who could become a towering legend if only he were to compromise a bit. Williamson cleverly wields a canny respectability about him that edges occasionally in the direction of madness as artist grapples with the very nature of truth.
Caravaggio’s art is cast against that of his brother Giovanni, who makes a similarly artistic living through carnal passions. Nathan Danzer breathes depth into an ambivalent man who finds himself harnessed into something more serious by chance and circumstance. Danzer and Williamson have a strong fraternal connection as the two brothers in a dynamic that is central to the whole drama.
Randall T. Anderson adds contrast to the fraternal love in the role of Father D’Angelo. He’s plague doctor who also serves as an aid to the Cardinal. Anderson imbues the character with an appealing personality through a rather dramatic character arc. What opens as a casual interest in Giovanni turns into something more as he is forced to question his thoughts on love and carnality. Gutzman has D’Angelo navigating through a massive shift in personality in the course of the play. This would be challenging enough for any actor. D’Angelo is only a peripheral character, which makes the dramatic transformation all the more difficult. Anderson handles it with a clever wit, tactfully muting some of Gutzman’s more leaden dialogue while accentuating some of the more sophisticated bits of intricacy Gutzman has written into the character.
Michael Pocaro rounds out the cast as Caravaggio’s patron Archbishop Borromeo. Pocaro is forcefully charismatic as a holy man desperately trying to understand the mind of God through a deeper understanding of Christ’s suffering. Borromeo is a deeply flawed man. Pocaro approaches the role with respect and sympathy that results in a nuanced portrayal of a man afflicted with his some of the very hubris he is looking to conquer in Caravaggio.
The Cardinal could give the artist the fantastic life of a wealthy artist if only he were to soften-up the carnal reality of his paintings. (And maybe get rid of the dog in that painting of John the Baptist.) Pocaro and Williamson are cleverly poised in an intellectual battle of wills that echoes struggles that have been going on between art and authority since the dawn of time.
The central themes of The Glance have been resonating through drama forever. Gutzman’s gaze into the struggles of a single artist are haunting at times. At other times they’re a weak echo of an endless struggle. The script is at its best when actors are allowed to dive directly into the struggle between each other without too much intellectual or historical ornamentation. Thankfully, most of the script allows for direct dramatic clashes between strong-willed characters. It is in those clashes that The Glance finds its greatest power.
Off the Wall Theatre’s The Glance runs through March 8th at the theatre on 127 E. Wells St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Off the Wall online.