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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Another Vermeer is about the real twentieth century Dutch painter Han Van Meegeren. After having his work dismissed by Holland's most prominent critic, Dr. Abraham Bredius (another drawn from life character), Van Meegeren made his fortune as a forger of paintings by his seventeenth century forbear Jan Van Vermeer.
Vermeer also wasn't a major art icon during his life time. However, eventually connoisseurs valued his distinctive style and his surviving canvases became highly valued. Thanks to Van Meegeren's talent for turning out faux Vermeers, the long gone artist's small but increasingly appreciated legacy grew. The critic who panned Van Meegeren waxed publicly and ecstatically over a Vermeer that should have been signed Van Meegeren.
Naturally, Van Meegeren would have preferred to become rich and famous with his own original work. (He did obtain numerous portrait commissions). Yet he was pleased to pocket the profits to support his several wives and children and taste for good living even though it meant forsaking the pleasure of showing up the despised Bredius and other critics as know-nothings.
But the forger came acropper shortly after the end of the Second World War when he was brought up on the very serious criminal charge of having sold a Dutch National Treasure, "Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus," to Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The only way to save his skin was to prove that what he'd sold to Gôring was a forgery. To do so his prosecutors allowed him to spend his pre-trial incarceration duplicating his forgery. It is this tense episode that is the focus of Mr. Robinson's play .
Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson's Van Meegeren is a totally unsympathetic character and Austin Pendleton, usually a fine actor, doesn't help to make him either more likeable or more interesting with an overly eccentric and full of ticks portrayal. The introduction of ghostly visits from Vermeer and his former art teacher (a double role for Dan Cordle), a confrontation with the hated Bredius (Thom Christopher, in the play's best performance) and a relationship of sorts with a young prison guard (Justin Grace) who poses as his Christ model turn out to be oddly boring rather than suspenseful.
The scenes between Van Meegeren and the American Lieutenant (Christian Pederson) in charge of his case, have occasional bursts of intelligent, witty dialogue but they add inaccuracy to Another Vermeer's flaws. The charge of trading with the enemy was indeed serious enough to entail a long jail sentence but but never a death sentence. In a way Van Meegeren did get a death sentence, since upon having the charge changed to forgery which entailed a just a year in jail, the artist-forger dropped dead of a heart attack. Given Pendleton's hyper, coke sniffing as well as absinthe drinking Van Meegeren, small wonder.
There's a good play in here somewhere and Director Kelly Morgan and his designers have done their best to tease it out of the script. But if Dr. Bredius could come back as a theater critic, I doubt he'd treat it any better than he did Mr. Van Meegeren's paintings.
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