nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
November 2, 2006
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when people redecorate, they need to show off. What happens when a person visits friends for the grand reveal of their new décor and discovers that their next project is him? That's the lot of the hapless Vaněk in Vaclav Havel's Unveiling. The Cardinal Stage Company's production of this work at the Ohio Theater is rich with detailed delights and well directed throughout, the laughs abound.
Unveiling can be performed as a humorous commentary on a man marginalized, stuck in his job at a brewery and taunted with the life he could be living; making indirect reference to Havel's own forced work at a brewery under the Czech communist regime. But the text succeeds as a worthy comedy in its own right without contextual overlay and this production revels in its rich, absurd possibilities. Here, repetitions of text are as much comic incantations as they may be code for government sponsored this-is-the-good-life-we offer-you propaganda. The production is a full-on commitment to hilarity and a friendly evening that questions all motivations.
When the slightly baffled and somewhat depressed Vaněk arrives at the apartment of Vera and Michael, they present their new look with the fervor of HGTV-addicts. It starts as an enthusiastic display of the finds acquired from various methods, including "when they liquidated a church!" Passionately extolling the artful tension between where they have hung the scimitar above the fireplace in juxtaposition to the gothic Madonna, Vera and Michael have a wondering seriousness that is deliciously absurd. Their behavior rapidly escalates into a praise-fest for each other and a paean to their lifestyle. As the evening rapidly approaches the night-out-from-hell level, they run through rants of parental pride and an excessively candid, hysterically audacious discussion of their sex life. There appears to be no limit to their efforts to engage Vaněk to dance, to drink, to come on over to their way of life. All the while these efforts are controlled by the chiming of a (gorgeously hideous) baroque clock. Its chimes and implied commentary seem to goad and divert the efforts of Michael and Vera, somehow organizing the insanity.
All of this mania could devolve into a pleasant but forgettable trifle without the considerable talents of this cast. As played by Diana Kondrat, Vera is a woman who would make Phyllis Schlafly proud. She is buoyant and charming and utterly unrelenting in her persuasive efforts. Her continual pleasant but pointed digs at Vaněk's absent wife Ava would be the envy of any sorority girl, as their humorous bitchiness comes from a place of being in Vaněk's best interests, of course. Her husband, Michael (deftly performed by Bill Simmons) is the perfect partner for Vera, this smooth operator is her biggest advocate—and in a truly stinging indictment of the perils of Communist repression, a hearty promoter of Swiss pop. The object of all this energetic proselytizing, Vaněk, is played with wonderful economy by Mike Price. His politely restrained yet evocative facial reaction when treated to one of Vera's special hors d'œuvres was one of the most beautiful takes I have seen in some time.
Randy White has directed clearly and with a pace that is brisk, excited, detailed, and, even better, never lingers without cause. Production designer Gordon Strain has done fine work in creating a look which requires very few pieces but fits together so well that objects to which the characters only refer to verbally seem visible. Although all of Amanda Bailey's costumes are perfectly character-specific and communicative, a special mention must be made of the black and green short/skirt piece which adorns Vera. It is a stunning combination, evoking '70s chic with an Eastern European flair that is almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Although after seeing this Unveiling, you might pause when considering the next social invitation, do not pause when considering whether or not to see this show. Catch it while you can!