Playwright Kate Cayley’s Bakelite Masterpiece is a fictionalized version of the trial of artist Han van Meegeren, who was arrested at the end of WWII in Holland on charges of abetting the enemy having sold a “lost” Vermeer painting to Nazi leader Hermann Goering. Meergeren admits he forged the canvas and to defend himself prevails on his prosecutor to allow him to create another perfect fake canvas of the master’s work before the court. Cayley fictionalizes the scenario, turning the pubic trail into a private inquisition and making Meergeren’s inquisitor a woman, Geert Piller, guerilla fighter and art historian, whose parents she believed to be victims of the SS.
The contrivance not only complicates the narrative but also overlays an already heavy thematic stew of war and reconciliation, truth and reality, belief and memory, illusion and reality with gender and the emotional relationship between van Meegeren and Piller. Played out at an unevenly paced 80 minutes, Bakelite Masterpiece emerges as more of a short story with novelistic themes than staged drama.
The underlying problem seems to be that Piller’s character isn’t sufficiently developed. It is through her, not Meegeren, that the play’s central theme of reconciliation needs to be transacted fully, but it is Meegeren who is more completely realized. Consequently, David Adkins’ performance as Meegeren fares better than Corinna May as Piller. Skilled as she is, May cannot overcome limitations of the script, nor can the direction of Kristen van Ginhoven as sensitive and graceful as it is. Set design by Juliana von Haubrich and lighting by Lilly Sossner work nicely on the Unicorn Stage, a perfect venue for this intellectually interesting, but not emotionally compelling, production.
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