By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune
It’s not about the art, it’s about moving on.
And money. Definitely about the money,
In the Westminster Community Playhouse’s hysterical new offering “Artifice,”directed by Jim Katapodis, Maggie La Rue (Jennifer Marks) and her friend and art gallery manager Richard (a marvelously charming and neurotic Steve Vogel) are in a tizzy, rushing to make the finishing touches for their viewing -– and attempted sale – of the collection of paintings by her late husband. While his work in life was ignored by the critics, it seems his paintings have accrued considerable value with his passing: hopefully enough to pay off the considerable debts the artist left behind.
But nothing is going quite as planned. With a near-blinding snowstorm setting in on the remote New York farm as they await their high-profile guests, the struggling friends discover that the bartender for the shindig is a no-show, instead sending in his place the talkative, unabashedly candid Graciela (Adriana Catanzarite)… and her risque maid outfit. Maggie is struggling to come to terms with her complicated feelings about her marriage and deceased husband, as well as her budding relationship with handsome, charming (and clueless) soap opera star Trent (Joshua Quarles)… but the looming debts and her desperation overshadow.
The stature of their arriving guests is only adding to Maggie and Richard’s jangling nerves. Welcoming Judith Fontaine (Laura Lejuwaan), the popular gossip columnist who’s doing an inside piece on the collection’s sale, buyer Mick Fitzgerald (Michael Corcoran) – a man with certain Irish “family” connections – and Mick’s own hand-picked art critic Ella – er, Emma (Jessica Watson), the pair are already struggling to keep their guests entertained and their stories straight… barring any other unexpected intrusions.
That is, until the presumed deceased artist himself, Payne Showers (Eric Schiffer) spontaneously arrives to a not-so-welcome homecoming…
With “Artifice,” Katapodis and WCP have struck upon what could initially be described as the portrait of a classic screwball comedy, but which in reality has a deep, revealing emotional context between the players. It’s a colorful collage of characters, each bringing their own special hue to the piece.
Catanzarite’s Graciela is a firecracker, lighting up the room with her snappy dialog and brash style; Quarles’ Trent is a lovable buffoon, as well-intentioned as he is oblivious; Lejuwaan’s Judith is playful and sly, eager to get the inside scoop but vindictive when lied to; Watson’s long-suffering Emma is a curiously mousey creature, in turns seemingly the smartest person in the room, or the most awkward; and Corcoran’s Mick shines in every scene, taking a folksy Irish brogue and adding both an old-world charm and a not-so-subtle note of menace.
Truly though, despite all the comedy and hi-jinx of the piece, the interplay between Marks’ Maggie and Schiffer’s Payne ring the most emotionally true: seeing these two people, one suddenly shocked out of grieving and thrust back into the quagmire of what relationship remains between her and her suddenly resurrected husband, and the other casually returning to a changed household and emotional landscape, and realizing his own personal changes mean nothing without being able to truly hear and communicate with your loved ones.
A sharp, fast-paced comedy of both wit and heart, “Artifice” is a beautiful artwork unto itself, and a brilliant find for the local theater scene; check it out at WCP before this gallery closes.
“Artifice.” Jennifer Marks, Eric Schiffer and Steve Vogel star in this tale of money, masterpieces and marriage by Anne Flannagan. Playing through June 19 at the Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster, CA 92683. Ticketing information available online at http://www.wcpstage.com, or call (714) 893-8626.
Categories: Arts & Leisure