Sight Unseen

[The following review, with some editorial changes, was published online in the Denver Post on May 9th.]

As the Romans used to say, "Caveat emptor," or, "Let the buyer beware"; in other words, the goods you're considering are not guaranteed. In Paragon Theatre's production of Donald Margulies' 1992 Pulitzer Prize nominee, this advice applies to individuals—in the form of painter Jonathan, his former college sweetheart, Patricia, and Patricia's present-day husband, Nick—who grapple with art and relationships they have acquired Sight Unseen.

Carolyn Valentine as Patricia, Jarrod Holbrook as Nick, and Marty Lindsey as Jonathan
Carolyn Valentine as Patricia,
Jarrod Holbrook as Nick,
and Marty Lindsey as Jonathan
Photo: Paragaon Theatre
The story is told in an impressionistic sequence that begins in the present when Jonathan, now a successful artist, visits Patricia and Nick in the remote northeast English countryside on the eve of his first major European exhibition in London. It is an awkward meeting that recalls bad feelings from the breakup of Jonathan and Patricia's earlier romance.

In bursts, the scenes drift forward four days and backwards 17 years. Later, we see Jonathan and Patricia at the moments when their relationship commenced and when it ended, yet the story does not include one scene in which we see the pair during their love affair and only one scene in which there is even a hint of friendliness between them.

Marty Lindsey as Jonathan and Carolyn Valentine as Patricia
Marty Lindsey as Jonathan and
Carolyn Valentine as Patricia
Photo: Paragaon Theatre
Therein lies the rub in this production, because we never get the feeling from Jonathan (Marty Lindsey) and Patricia (Carolyn Valentine) that they were once in love. Without some subtextual reference to their former attraction, the stakes are never high enough for the audience to care about them. This disconnect is compounded as Lindsey talks past Valentine as if Patricia is and always was just an object to Jonathan.

This lack of chemistry unravels the playwright's carefully constructed emotional matrix, depleting the script of its inner sense, degrading Jonathan's original arc from idealistic artist to commercial contractor into a steady state of mere selfishness, and Patricia's original arc, from optimistic dilettante to disillusioned realist into one of merely a fool.

Carolyn Valentine as Patricia
Carolyn Valentine as Patricia
Photo: Paragaon Theatre
Despite this derailment, Valentine gives Patricia a brave front when Jonathan shows up after all these years, yet reveals the lingering pain that makes her unwilling to forgive him. Later, this emotional benchmark informs the only cathartic moment in the production, when Patricia is asked (by Nick) to give up the painting Jonathan had done of her when they first met—the painting which was the transformative experience that launched Jonathan's now storied career, and which confirms Patricia as his first muse.

As Patricia describes Nick, he is a socially inept though occasionally insightful scientist, but there is more to him than this dismissive and disarmingly blunt comment indicates. In Jarred Holbrook's portrayal, Nick is a man who knows his shortcomings and is willing to take Patricia's emotional charity when he can get it, yet is nevertheless shrewd when it comes to protecting what's his. Holbrook's clarity is at times dampened when his Norfolk dialect drifts past the representational and get swallowed in the region's bogs and fens.

Suzanne Favette as Grete and Marty Lindsey as Jonathan
Suzanne Favette as Grete
and Marty Lindsey as Jonathan
Photo: Paragaon Theatre
As Grete, Favette's German accent holds steady, though her performance borders on caricature, distracting from the seriousness of the issues the journalist is raising and what should be a defining moment in Jonathan's career. Instead, the sequence reads more like a satire on criticism and the volatility of the artistic temperament.

While Margulies commentary on the commercialization of art occasionally scores, it is hardly news in an age where most everyone and everything have their price, opening our eyes to how crass we have become in the past 16 years (two presidential administrations) since the play debuted.

In sum, this production's issues and the script's age lend an aura of pretentiousness to the discussion of art and a sophomoric air to the purging of the young writer's demons. What should have been compelling here is Jonathan's journey from his youthful idealism to his present soulless state, but this arc remains Sight Unseen.

Paragon Theatre's regional premiere of Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen runs through May 31st. 303-300-2210 or

Bob Bows


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