KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 15, 2001
They really are the perfect neighbors. The men live right next door to the women. The guys are obsessed with art, the ladies with literature. The two houses explode with energy, friendship, love, language and often, Big Ideas. The Globe couldn’t have picked more felicitous dramatic companions — “Vita and Virginia” and “Art.” Both are magnificently designed. In the Cassius Carter, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf play out their epistolary relationship in a bower of draping wisteria, surrounded by rocks and books, with a blue, clouded sky reflected on the ground below.
In the Old Globe Theatre, three mates contemplate a modern painting in a modern environment — a spare, sleek apartment where dermatologist Serge collects art. His friends are appalled by his latest purchase: a 4foot-by 4-foot square of white canvas, for which he paid 200,000 francs. It nearly destroys the friendship. Marc, the cynical, supercilious aeronautical engineer, curses the dread object, convinced that he could not love anyone capable of loving that painting. Yvan, the stationery salesman, ever the conciliator, sides with one or the other of his more educated friends, and is belittled for it. These gentlemen are often anything but. They tear each other to pieces, before they can rebuild their trust and resume their relationship.
Next door, the interaction is no less intense — more, in fact, because writers Woolf and Sackville-West had an on again/off-again affair that played better on paper than in person. Their 19-year correspondence was filled with longing and literary gems. They both had husbands, but the glamorous, aristocratic Vita was a promiscuous world-traveler, and the virginal Virginia was often depressed, at times reclusive. Both were prolific writers, although time has been far kinder to one than the other. Virginia’s ardor and jealousy prompted her to create “Orlando,” a magnificent, idealized version of Vita.
Both these recent plays were great successes in New York., and in the case of “Art,” in playwright Yazmina Reza’s native France. Actor/writer Eileen Atkins starred in the original production of “Vita and Virginia.” But both works seem to have lost some profundity in their move to San Diego. Beyond their enjoyable performances, each of the actors is playing a single note, devoid of sufficient depth. In Joseph Hardy’s hands, “Art” has turned from a bitter comedy of ideas into a flat-out, laugh-a-minute sitcom. And Karen Carpenter’s earnest direction of “Vita and Virginia” shows us a furtive affair between a dowdy frump and a frivolous beauty. We get no glimpse of the melancholy moments of Vita’s life, or the mental illness that plagued Virginia’s. Both productions are fine, but not outstanding; pleasurable, well wrought, but alas, not deeply moving.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.