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Paulanne Simmons

Claudia Shear Appears Alongside "David" in Her New Play, "Restoration"

Directed by Christopher Ashley
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street between Second Ave. and Bowery
Opened May 19, 2001
Tues. 7 p.m., Wed. thru Fri. 8 p.m. . Sat. 3 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m.
Closes June 13, 2010
Tickets: $65 (212) 279-4200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 18, 2010

This seems to be the year for exploring art and the artist. On Broadway we've seen "Red," the story of Mark Rothko's obsession with color and himself, and "Collected Stories," Donald Margulies' study of the relationship between an aging writer and her protégée. Now, off Broadway, Claudia Shear ("Dirty Blonde") stars in her own play, "Restoration," about a Brooklyn art restorer who is commissioned to refurbish the famed "David," which is somewhat the worse for wear in its home in Florence's Galleria dell' Accademia.

The commission, coming at a low point in Giulia's career, is a last chance, and she knows she can't mess it up by tactless outbursts or inflexibility. "Please let me shut up long enough to get this," she tells herself. But what Giulia is not prepared for is the possibility that "David" is not the only one who will be transformed by the experience.

Christopher Ashley directs this New York Theatre Workshop production, and he does it so well that there is no trace of the indulgence that might come with an author starring in her own show. Shear's portrayal of the plucky Giulia is sensitive but never mawkish. Giulia is bitter, lonely, and cynical at the same time she is vulnerable, funny and kind. Her first love may be made of stone, but her heart certainly isn't.

What's more, there's plenty of room for the other actors to spread their wings. Jonathan Cake is an engaging presence as Max, the Galleria guard who tries ceaselessly to bring out the humanity in the doggedly businesslike Giulia. But he is more than a foil. He is a real person who commands our respect and admiration. He is also wise and funny, and like so many Italian men, sexy and charming.

Giulia has received the commission through the intervention of a former professor (Alan Mandell), who presides over the play like an aging sage. But she is not without enemies or people she turns into enemies.

Daphne (Tina Benko), the museum board member in charge of publicity, is a beautiful woman who immediately arouses the antipathy of the dumpy, less than attractive Giulia. What's more Daphne's agenda does not exactly coincide with Giulia's ivory tower goals. But Shear is too skilled a writer and Benko to fine an actor to make Daphne a mere hard-hearted business woman. Daphne too is dealing with personal problems and haunted by her own demons.

Natalija Nogulich plays a number of smaller roles, all of them well: Professor Marciante; Nonna, an older Florentine lady who first saw the "David" when she was 8 years old; and Beatrice, the cleaning lady – all of whom love the statue in their own way.

Scott Pask has created a particularly effective set, using the "David" as a centerpiece, while only revealing it in parts. And Kristin Ellert's video design and David Lander's lighting do the rest.

But in the end, "Restoration" is neither gimmicky nor intellectually pretentious. It is a drama that shows clearly how art is inextricably united to personality. And how people as well as great works can be restored.



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