Portrait Of An Unidentified Man

Notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory was the subject of a 1959 Francois Reichenbach documentary and a 1973 Orson Welles movie, and now is the focus of Ottawa actor Pierre Brault's second one-man show, "Portrait of an Unidentified Man," having its world preem.

How many fakes hang in art galleries and private collections around the world? The better the art forger, the harder it is to be sure. And notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory, was, apparently, one of the best. The subject of a 1959 Francois Reichenbach documentary and a 1973 Orson Welles movie, de Hory now is the focus of Ottawa actor Pierre Brault’s second one-man show, “Portrait of an Unidentified Man,” having its world preem.

Brault’s first solo show, “Blood on the Moon,” began as a local fringe festival production and went on to national and international success.

The expectations created by the previous hit put tremendous pressure on Brault as writer and performer. The actor has little difficulty in rising to the challenge of presenting de Hory’s life story in his voice and through a mass of other characters, including fellow expat Hungarians Magda, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress.

While it’s periodically a little too campy, Brault’s performance and his ability to differentiate the colorful group are masterful. The presentation, particularly Martin Conboy’s lighting design and Justin Haynes’ soundscape, enhance the power of the production.

The weakness lies in the script itself. In the first place, there’s little that’s heroic about de Hory. He is certainly not the classic picture of the virtuous being with one tragic flaw. Rather, he is a failed artist with a talent for painting in the style of others — an unworthy man who got lucky.

Then, having selected an essentially unworthy protagonist, Brault, once a standup comedian, appears to have tried to spice the content by introducing assorted other, more famous names. The result is a script too packed with irrelevant details, too episodic and somewhat self-indulgent.

Despite Brault’s undisputed stage presence, “Portrait of an Unidentified Man” (the title is drawn from one of de Hory’s paintings) does not hold the attention as the riveting “Blood on the Moon” did. Maybe this is a signal that the impact of that show can happen only once and that this fine actor’s next script should move away from the one-person format.

Portrait Of An Unidentified Man

National Arts Center, Sleeping Dog Theater, Ottawa; 300 Seats;C$32 ($26) Top

Production: A play in one act, written and performed by Pierre Brault. Directed by Brian Quirt.

Creative: Sets and lighting, Martin Conboy; music composition and sound, Justin Haynes; production stage manager, Judi Pearl. Opened, reviewed Feb. 7, 2005. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

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