The Waxman Cometh

Are artists who make lots and lots of money soulless assholes?

The personal and professional paths of the play intersect in Jonathan's portrait of Patricia. She kept the painting after the breakup, and it now hangs over the mantle, a source of constant irritation to Nick. Although it lacks the bold technique of Jonathan's more recent work, there's a candor about it, a sense of connection and commitment lacking in the rest of Jonathan's oeuvre.

Arriving in Norfolk, Jonathan realizes his portrait of Patricia documents a time when he didn't paint from memory or merely to fulfill commissions or make headlines, but rather when the fire burned inside him and there was nothing else he could do with it but paint. It's honest and real. It's also not his anymore-literally and metaphorically.

To condense this dense play into one sentence: you can't exist in two worlds. Jonathan cannot be the rich, hollow success of his current life and the poverty-stricken but soulfully rich artist of his youth. And what's most haunting about this play-and this production-is that it's unclear whether one can ever hope to strike a balance between the extremes of rich-but-poor and poor-but-rich.

But what makes Margulies such an important contemporary playwright is the universality of the question. This isn't just about a painter trying desperately to reconnect with an earlier, more honest period of his life. It's also about any and all of us who cling fervently to the past, to the memory of a relationship, a journey, an idealism that we no longer feel. And while it's temping to view Sight Unseen as a modern-day morality play (be careful what you wish for; don't sell out because you'll lose your soul), it's just as tempting to consider another possibility the play raises: maybe the very fact that we are so willing to hang on to our past is what prevents us from living the lives we think we should be leading in the present.

Sight Unseen at Alternative Repertory Theatre, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 836-7929. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through May 1. $22-$25.

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