Review: ‘Modigliani’

Scripter Dennis McIntyre chronicles three chaotic nights in the angst-filled life of the Paris-dwelling artist in "Modigliani." The action is set in 1916, three years earlier than the recently released pic starring Andy Garcia. McIntyre's stylish effort to capture the struggle of the consumptive but volatile Amedeo (Robert Cicchini) -- he must overcome a creative block that has stilled his paintbrush for months -- lacks tangible thematic evolution. Helmer Elina De Santos adequately guides a talented ensemble through the emotional highs and lows but is undermined by an awkward plot that simply dissolves by play's end.

Scripter Dennis McIntyre chronicles three chaotic nights in the angst-filled life of the Paris-dwelling artist in “Modigliani.” The action is set in 1916, three years earlier than the recently released pic starring Andy Garcia. McIntyre’s stylish effort to capture the struggle of the consumptive but volatile Amedeo (Robert Cicchini) — he must overcome a creative block that has stilled his paintbrush for months — lacks tangible thematic evolution. Helmer Elina De Santos adequately guides a talented ensemble through the emotional highs and lows but is undermined by an awkward plot that simply dissolves by play’s end.

McIntyre delves into the demonic insecurities that plagued the Italian-born painter-sculptor. However, he fails to make plausible Amedeo’s creative re-emergence after he has trashed his relationships with his worshipful art dealer Leopold Zborowski (Daniel Nathan Spector), his devoted mistress-model Beatrice Hastings (Susan Ziegler) and the one important collector who might have helped him, Guillaume Cheron (Thomas Kopache).

“Modigliani” is overflowing with drunken bohemian revelry as our protagonist and his painter pals, Chaim Soutine (Graham Miller) and Maurice Utrillo (Dylan Kussman), flail their besotted narcissistic personas around their imagined dilemmas. Cicchini, Miller and Kussman are totally committed to the action, but the only thing they prove is that artistic drunks are just as boring in their self-indulgent blabber as non-artistic drunks.

It would be more dramatically rewarding if McIntyre had invested more time and substance into Modigliani’s scenes with dealer Zborowski and model Hastings. Spector is impressively convincing as Zborowski, who would literally sell the shirt off his back to help the artist. What isn’t explored are the reasons why this man has such singular faith in an artist who has no supporters other than his girlfriend and his drinking buddies.

The scenes between Amedeo and Hastings are more rewarding. Ziegler captures the sensual but hard-bitten personality of this liberated poetess and world traveler. McIntyre also has given her the reasonable task of trying to convince Amedeo to think of his art as a business and conduct himself accordingly. It would have been useful to witness more of the inner workings of their relationship as lovers and artistic collaborators.

The true highlight of the production is Modigliani’s horrific confrontation with supremely haughty art collector Cheron, played to bloodless perfection by Kopache. Cicchini is dead-on as Amedeo struts like a bantam cock in his manic efforts to impress the unflappable collector who cold-bloodedly evaluates the commercial merits of the artist’s work.

The bottom-dwelling reality of Modigliani’s Parisian lifestyle is adequately realized by Haibo Yu’s sets, Leigh Allen’s lighting and Jeannine Stehlin’s sound design.

Modigliani

Elephant Theater; 70 seats; $15 top

Production

A Circus Theatricals presentation of a play in two acts by Dennis McIntyre. Directed by Elina De Santos.

Creative

Sets, Haibo Yu; lights, Leigh Allen; costumes, Kitty Rose; sound, Jeannine Stehlin. Opened and reviewed May 12, 2005. Runs through June 16 (Thursdays only). Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Amedeo Modigliani - Robert Cicchini Chaim Soutine - Graham Miller Maurice Utrillo - Dylan Kussman Leopold Zborowski - Daniel Nathan Spector Beatrice Hastings - Susan Ziegler Guillaume Cheron - Thomas Kopache
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