Sight Unseen-PF

Quite a 'Sight' to see

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff


Though Thomas Wolfe warned, "You can't go home again," he'd probably agree that a worse mistake would be to go to the home of your old girlfriend and her current husband.

Jonathan Waxman makes that titanic error in Sight Unseen, Donald Margulies' much-acclaimed 1992 play that's getting an engrossing production at Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown.

When Jonathan met Patricia 17 years ago, they were both art students in college. She was his model, his muse, then his girlfriend. Patricia took the relationship more seriously then he -- though, that was one reason he ended it.

Since then, Jonathan has gone on to world-class fame and fabulous fortune as a force in modern art. So when he's in London to launch a retrospective of his work, he decides to drive into the English countryside and visit Patricia. In contrast to him, she and her husband Nick -- both archaeologists -- are literally scraping to get by.

Anyone who never misses a high school reunion so he can lord his wealth and success over his less fortunate classmates can certainly understand Jonathan's motivation. The world-class painter spends his time at Patricia and Nick's humble abode modestly minimizing his accomplishments. What he really wants, though, is for Patricia and Nick to correct and aggrandize him.

He doesn't quite get what he wants from Nick, though. The husband is none too pleased, as he tells Jonathan, "Patricia was gazing at you like she was an astronaut's wife." Actually, Nick is just getting started. He goes on to attack that which Jonathan holds dearest -- not a person, of course, but his art.

Perhaps that's one reason why Jonathan is so difficult when he returns to London and deals with Grete, an interviewer. Granted, she's a bit much to take (that's the role, not Shannon Noecker's dead-on supercilious performance), but Jonathan shouldn't displace his hostility on her.

The play has been vividly directed by Steven Dennis. He's making his New Jersey debut, and if this is typical of his work, theatergoers would be fortunate if he returned to stage many other Garden State shows. He's infused into this production such energy that every scene crackles with excitement. That's more than can be said of the lackluster production Broadway saw of Sight Unseen last year.

Gary Littman gives Jonathan charm and confidence, pretending that he's just the same old Johnny, while at the same time making sure to give unmistakable signs that he isn't. Steven L. Barron is Nick, the bespectacled academic who at first seems just foppish. Barron, though, soon shows the character's substantial backbone, turning the man from taciturn to garrulous, and reeking with thinly veiled sarcasm.

Says an astonished Patricia, "I haven't seen this much life in him in years." She, meanwhile, is portrayed by Dina Ann Comolli, in the most endearing performance of the season thus far. The diminutive and dimpled Comolli is as cute as a boutonniere, for she's the type of lass who gives a pal a good-natured punch on the arm -- though she can pack a wallop when she's wronged. Though Patricia is a well-written character, Comolli brings her to life with a lightning-rod poke. No question that Jonathan, in throwing her over, lost quite a woman.