Color Wash

The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath
Lily Charles

Who owns the painting, the artist or the schmuck with the money?" asks Israel Horovitz in reference to his latest play, which centers on two modern-day art students as they explore the history behind the paintings of Impressionist Pierre Bonnard. Why did Bonnard continually edit his work, and why so many depictions of his wife in the bath? (Three hundred eighty-four to be exact.) These interesting inquiries get overshadowed by misuse of theatrical device. One actor embodies a character described as "corpulent and bearded" by donning a canvas from which a large belly protrudes and beard hangs. It is a hilarious image, instantly rendering believable the fat art dealer—but as soon as the character comes alive, the canvas is tossed aside. Meanwhile, the the projection screens serve little purpose and the bathtub is only used twice. The actors speak English, reverting to French at various dramatic moments, but the ça va's and bon dieu's do little to evoke the French countryside. (Michael Bakkensen as a museum guard does sport an impeccable French accent, however.) Alas, instead of mulling over notions of art and ownership, this audience member was left wondering how such a bonne idée didn't quite get realized.

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