Sight Unseen,” the fourth most produced play in America last year, has been playing at the Odyssey to full houses for good reason: It’s an engrossing story told well and smartly acted and directed.
Wildly successful artist Jonathan Waxman (John Rubinstein) has come to London for his first retrospective, and he visits his ex-girlfriend, Patricia (Elizabeth Norment). She’s an expatriatemarried to Nick (Randy Oglesby), an English archeologist filled with quiet jealousy.
Jonathan’s visit, it becomes clear, is a quest for his inner self. Success has warped him, and perhaps he can find his original spirit with the woman who knew him before his wealth and fame. The visit, and an interview with a German art critic (Jessica Hendra), is far from easy.
Playwright Donald Margulies has built many layers into this absorbing work. Different acts retreat 15 or more years in the characters’ lives, showing how time has played with Jonathan and Patricia, revealing to the audience truths the characters cannot see.
As Jonathan, Rubinstein successfully walks a tightrope. There’s much to dislike about Jonathan — he’s rich, arrogant and slick — yet one learns these things only after seeing him as tactful and troubled, his endearing qualities.
Oglesby first plays Nick as painfully shy. Fortified with whiskey, however, Nick unleashes his piercing questions for Jonathan, who, as an unseen presence until now, has hobbled Nick’s marriage to Patricia.
Hendra’s German art critic, Grete, also maneuvers a tricky course. She seems naive and blinded by language, cultural and gender differences. Yet, to Jonathan’s vehement protestations and accusations of anti-Semitism, she reveals the true man beneath his PR.
Director Michael Bloom — who stayed with the play for three years, from its South Coast Rep premiere to Off Broadway and now here — keeps it personal and provoking; each scene builds with tension as his actors reveal more and more (Rubinstein, Oglesby and Hendra took over recently when the run was extended).
Matt Flynn’s set design, efficiently aided by a turntable, also cleverly employs an abstractly painted wall that gives the sense of a chilly, provincial English farmhouse.
Susan Snowden’s costume design ably assists in delineating past and present, America and Europe. Michael Roth’s minimalist music and rich sound design reinforce emotions well.