This weekend, you could walk into a coffeehouse and find some guy yakking about the nature of corporate sponsorship of art vs. starving, or passionate inspiration vs. calculated shock. Or you could go to Long Beach and get the same discussion and a touching love story in a production of Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen that deserves a look.
Director Adam Kingl has moved the action to 1999, a choice that doesn't always work given several references in the script that set the action firmly in the George Bush years. But he has shaped his actors into a compelling cast. Michael Kaplan plays Jonathan Waxman with the right blend of nervous energy, desperation and cynicism. He's a painter who has achieved it all: international fame, fortune, even impending fatherhood. Now he wants to rediscover his lost passion.
On the eve of his first European tour, Waxman looks up his college lover, Patricia, now living in England with her husband, Nick. Nick is a good but dull man; Richard Ruyle plays him wonderfully understated, evoking just enough perceptible anger and passion to suggest the rage beneath the calm. As it happens, his wife has carried a torch for Waxman for the past 15 years; she still displays the painting Waxman did of her the day they met. Cara Newman's Patricia is convincing both as a college student full of hope (in one of the play's flashback scenes) and as a middle-aged wife who has sacrificed her dreams to practicality. Like a match in a house filled with gasoline, Waxman's visit ignites suppressed emotions and kick starts some interesting conversations.
Sight Unseen at Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1616. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through August 28. $12-$14.