The award-winning Flea Theater off Broadway sponsors The Bats, a young artists program. In 2013, I saw one of The Bats’ company productions, a great play entitled The Recommendation by Jonathan Caran, with outstanding performances by the three-man cast. This weekend I saw another production by the current Bats company, a sharp incisive play by Sam Marks, The Old Masters, about contemporary artists, fame and failure. The play won praise at a previous production at Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work.
The premise of the play is that a starving alcoholic artist friend has disappeared and left cartons of finished artwork to Lara, a girl friend, who was his caregiver. She brings a carton of the artist’s work to Ben, his former roommate (and also an artist who has had one show but spends him current time lecturing and advising galleries). Ben is living with Olive, a successful architect, in a run-down, unfinished loft. Olive is pregnant with Ben’s child. The play is full of references to successful artists, past and present, and lots of name-dropping of New York galleries and international art festivals (i.e. the Whitney, the Venice Biennale). Lara asks Ben to try to market the missing artist’s work, and, to Ben’s surprise, his gallery contact takes on the work and it is a great success, artistically and financially. The emotional lives of the three characters on stage shift and change, re-arranging their futures.
These are tricky parts for actors. Adelind Horan, who plays Lara, has the most difficult part. In the first scene she is very bland, coy and flirtatious, but she develops an erotic, yet angry relationship with Ben. Horan has several long speeches, some humorous, but at least one very angry outburst towards the end of the play. She carries off this complex role with amazing skill, her performance reminding me of Diane Keaton’s breakout performance in the Broadway version of Play It Again, Sam (for which she received a Tony nomination).
Rory Kulz*, who plays Ben, also has a tricky part. Playing charming and humorous, then obsessive and jealous, and eventually coming up with a terribly selfish idea to change all their lives. There is not a false note in Kulz’s mercurial performance, it’s as emotionally naked as an actor can be.
Alesandra Nahodil who plays Olive sometimes seems passive in her relationship to Ben, but she is repressing her actual feelings out of sympathy and love for him. Throughout the play her pregnancy develops and she finds it puzzling that Ben never communicates anything about its progress to Lara. Nahodil’s last scene is devastating.
This perfect production is skillfully paced and directed by Brandon Stock, and the set (Andrew Diaz), lighting (Jonathan Cottle), and costumes (Travis Alexandra Boatright), are first rate.
Unfortunately Old Masters closed at The Flea Theatre in TriBeCa June 28. But look for future work by all involved.
* Correction: Rory Kulz was mistakenly identified as Rory “Katz” in previous editions of this article. Theater Pizzazz apologizes for the error.