The adventurous New Jersey Repertory Company opens its seventh season of new plays with Mary Fengar Gail’s metaphysical comedy “Touch of Rapture.” The quirky piece begins as a curiously amusing concept but soon tumbles awkwardly into an unaffecting, dreary discourse on the power and enlightenment of art and its strange strength to inhabit one’s psyche and govern one’s actions.
As sculptress Clovis draws her last breath, she reaches out to touch her husband, art dealer Quince (John FitzGibbon); with hands intertwined, she bequeaths her talent as an artist. Quince’s formerly crippled fingers are magically restored and he appropriates his late wife’s creative gifts and style, at least for the time being.
The deceased’s brother, Garlin (Davis Hall), whom Quince defines as a “deceitful and supercilious old queen,” finds it difficult to accept the transformation but is reluctantly obliged to forge an artistic alliance to exhibit and merchandise the Clovis legacy.
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To pose as the sculptor, the pair recruits Rosemary (Marnie Andrews), a retired “unkempt, and lumpish” cousin with a passion for tea cakes and cigars. Eventually, the magic powers of the late sculptress’s hands get passed along from Quince to the meekly confused Garlin, who is stricken with paralytic fear, and then to the eccentric Rosemary, who appears to receive “the strength of Artemis, the wisdom of Athena and the joy of Eros.”
A rushed postscript suggests an unlikely union of the threesome and, even more unlikely, a blossoming romance between Quince and the fluttery Rosemary.
The players affect a clipped but often faltering British attitude. FitzGibbon has the more flamboyant turn as the impassioned widower. A sturdy veteran of Garden State theater, Hall is crisply nerdy as the meek and foolish Garlin. Andrews fares best with the kind of eccentric flair once the exclusive terrain of Elsa Lanchester.
Stewart M. Schulman’s staging is pointed and clean given the tight confines of the stage. An atmospheric lighting design complements the play’s more mysterious moments. A small and tidy but functional set is centered by a small table and three chairs, accented by six revolving panels that reveal sculpted reliefs of figures, including a curvaceous Pandora — a metaphorical image whose very touch appears to produce hedonic pleasures.
The piece would work better sans intermission, as it is really a 90-minute play.