‘Chasing Manet' delivers plenty of laughs
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.
Imagine what it's like to be a distinguished and accomplished artist with an acutely sharp mind, now legally blind and withering away in a nursing home in the Bronx. That's the dilemma facing Catherine Sargent, the main character in the play “Chasing Manet,” by Tina Howe. Directed by Jan Cohen, the play opened Friday at the Gainesville Community Playhouse at the Vam York Theatre, with performances running through Feb. 10.
What: Gainesville Community Playhouse production of play about two women who plot to escape from their nursing home.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 10.
Where: Vam York Theater, 4039 NW 16th Blvd.
Tickets: $16, $10 for students and children; all seats $5 for tonight's preview performance.
Info: 376-4949, www.gcplayhouse.org
Catherine, ably played by Carolyn Caracausa, deals with this depressing scenario in a predictably depressing way: by wallowing around in bed all day facing the wall and occasionally shouting, “I want out!”
Who can blame her for wanting to be back with her friends in Boston, or, better yet, sailing to Paris on the QE2 for one more look at “Le dejeuner sur l'herb” by impressionist painter Eduard Manet in the Louvre? Catherine's son, Royal, a poetry professor at Columbia University (played by Andrew Gordon), moved his mother to New York so she could be closer to him and he could visit her every day. But he's too busy nursing along an ailing academic career to drop in at the nursing home more than once a month. And while the nursing home is full of kind, helpful health-care providers, it's also populated by a roster of weird and wacky patients.
Caracausa plays a convincing Catherine — a cousin of the famous American painter John Singer Sargent — partly because she's an accomplished actress, but also because her voice and mannerisms seem to channel those of actress Candice Bergen, who's sophisticated, wisecracking persona would have suited the role of this embittered aristocrat to a tee.
Patricia Thompson charms the audience as Catherine's bubbly new roommate, Rennie, a wheelchair-bound New Yorker who is drifting into dementia. Rennie's booming voice and New York accent are brash enough to wake up an entire cemetery (or anyone in the audience who may have drifted off to sleep during the performance). Rennie's family members visit her nearly every day and often take her on outings to restaurants in the city, on shopping sprees and even to visit the New York Botanical Gardens.
The contrast between Catherine and Rennie is as stark as the artwork decorating the walls of their room: A reproduction of Manet's “Le dejeuner sur l'herb” graces the wall above Catherine's bed, while twin paint-by-numbers replicas of artist Margaret Keane's doe-eyed Harlequin Girls hang on the wall over Rennie's bed. But Catherine is desperate enough to form an unlikely alliance with Rennie, and the two hatch a plan to escape.
The play's plotline is admittedly thin, but the acting more than makes up for the improbable chain of events. The director says in the program notes that she and the cast know all too well what it truly means for a loved one to be stuck in a nursing home. They approach this potentially serious subject matter with care and kindness, and the play's comic relief provides a welcome relief from an otherwise depressing set of circumstances.
“Chasing Manet” manages to deliver plenty of laughs, and the ending will leave you feeling as uplifted as a sparkling shower of confetti.