The Credeaux Canvas
nytheatre.com review by Brad Lee Thomason
November 6, 2009
The Credeaux Canvas starts off with the line "it's a fake" as Amelia studies a painting her boyfriend's roommate is working on for class. It's a fitting beginning to a play where forgery is the name of the game.
Winston, the character who utters these first words, is a passionate art student with some real talent and a special love for the artist Jean Paul Credeaux, and it isn't long before he spills his knowledge excitedly to the bemused Amelia, an aspiring singer and freshly unemployed waitress who is quickly charmed by the socially awkward but obviously deeply dedicated young artist; setting up a very comfortable relationship between the two that allows them to truly expose themselves to each other; in many more ways than one.
The Credeaux Canvas originally ran at Playwrights Horizons in 2001, and it is very easy to see why the Aeternalis Theatre has decided to mount a revival: Keith Bunin has crafted an excellently constructed play, and the characters are well-drawn examples of struggling young New Yorkers becoming more and more disillusioned. Jamie, the boyfriend of Amelia and roommate to Winston, is struggling most of all; his estranged father, a recently deceased art dealer, has cut him completely out of his will, and Jamie is desperate to improve his current financial woes that the inheritance would have alleviated. Fortunately, he has told his father's art connoisseur friend he owns an original painting by Jean Paul Credeaux, the artist of Winston's obsession. This is of course a lie, but his roommate could easily fake an original, the art critic won't know the difference, and nothing could possibly go wrong with such a tidy plan. Did I mention the marriage between Jamie and Amelia hangs in the balance? Or that Winston would be painting Amelia—nude—for five hours a day in the moonlight while Jamie is away working? What problems could arise?
Well, Amelia and Winston could fall in love with each other, the art critic could turn out to be a bona fide expert, and Jamie's last desperate and dishonest attempt to create the life he imagines himself entitled to could instead effectively ruin him forever.
Megan Melnyk gracefully plays Amelia with beautiful vulnerability and incredible naturalism, and the Act One scenes between her and RJ Passetti, who plays the gifted and self-effacing Winston, are true gems. Director Bryan Radtke does an excellent job slowly building the tension between these two as they reveal themselves to each other in body, mind, and spirit. I wanted to see more bravado from Sergey Nagorny as Jamie to effectively counterbalance his actual desperation. Jamie enters the play larger than life, but Nagorny does not summon up the necessary steam. The second half of the play is highlighted by the enthusiastic performance of Billie Colombaro, who plays the would-be scammed art lover Tess. She is not easily taken, as it turns out; she certainly knows her stuff, and the scene where she examines Winston's forged painting is nail-biting and highly entertaining.
It's not just that Tess knows her stuff; it would appear that playwright Bunin knows his stuff, too. He has written a very intelligent play; one that is well-envisioned and delivered by Aeternalis at the Gene Frankel Theatre.