PORTRAIT OF A PRESIDENT
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
In Portrait of a President, four artists, Beth, Diantha, Ben, and
Charles are all assembled at the White House, where one of them will be
commissioned to paint President Clinton’s portrait. While they wait to
meet the president, they talk about their different approaches to and
concepts of art (all of which are absolutely fascinating). The steward
shows up and gives them historical information about some of the other
presidents’ portraits (once again, very interesting). He then ushers in
their significant others who were waiting for them in the Rose Garden.
We soon learn that all of the relationships are in trouble.
August 15, 2002
Unfortunately, there are just too many ideas in Portrait of a President; it could actually be made into several different plays, but as it is now, it is jumbled. There is no one point to the play, though you can see the glimmer of many ideas within it. What does come through, though, is how intelligent and knowledgeable playwright Herman Daniel Farrell III is. My favorite parts of the play are when I’m learning something, be it about art or history. The most amazing moments are when you can tell that Farrell’s on a roll, and you just listen to the thoughts of a brilliant mind.
Also holding back Portrait of a President from achieving its full possibilities are the acting and staging. John Daggett as the steward and Arthur French as Charles both bring their characters to life, however, the other actors seem to have little grasp on their characters and need considerable work. The directing and set also detract from the play, particularly in the second act when characters not in a scene remain frozen in the background. Scene changes are sporadically heralded by the chiming of a grandfather clock, however this has nothing to do with the story, makes the scene changes take a long time, and is done rather sloppily (14 o’clock?). Lastly, a great deal of time is spent talking about the official portraits of past presidents (such as Sargent’s painting of Teddy Roosevelt), however the audience never sees them—the actors look at empty picture frames hanging from the ceiling.
Portrait of a President may not live up to all of its potential or all of its playwright‘s potential, but I promise you, it will leave you with a lot to think about.