Every age has its unique forms of simple answers. Ours fits them into 15-minute TED Talks and a regular churn of #helpful discretely numbered lists (6 Ways to Live Again after Your Break Up). We click and share these daily, we repeat mantras like “not the what or the how, but the WHY,” to the point of almost religious practice. We believe, on some level, that elegance can save us, and if we are to be rescued from stagnant jobs or disappointing relationships or poor company performance, why shouldn’t the answer emerge clearly and simply?
Buntport Theater Company continues its triptych of Greek-myth-inspired plays with an unassuming dark comedy that throws the cult of simple answers into relief. Relief against what, exactly? The museum attendant (and only cast member on stage) reminds the audience early on that Rembrandt’s lighting is famous not for its clarity but for its shadows. Like the chiaroscuro in the painter’s work, the play is as passionate about epiphanies and revelation as it is devoted to anecdotes, sidebars, and footnotes. Some answers come, some don’t, and most of the way is only partly lit.
“Welcome to the Rembrandt Room,” the narrator says, banally directing folks to the bathroom and launching into the standard analysis of the piece behind her. The painting is an intimate depiction—“practically life size”—of Danaë reclining on a bed moments before she is raped by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold (not to be confused with a golden shower).
Shortly after this simple introduction, however, we cross into alternate interpretations and counter histories of the work. “The longer you look at something,” the museum attendant tells us, “the more you can see the beauty in it.” Her speech, delivered more personally than a lecture, creates a web of meaning from the nude (or is she naked?) painting subject; the mistress and wife of the painter; the legacy and reputation of Catherine the Great, who originally purchased it from Rembrandt; and the 20th century vandal who attacked the painting with a knife, requiring a 12-year restoration process. Like the narrator, many of these women are waiting and hoping for a simpler answer than they have received, leaving the narrator to revise her original claim: “The longer you look at something, the harder it is to see, and the more real.”
Buntport’s choice to stage this play is incredibly risky — pacing is often a challenge in one-actor pieces — but Erin Rollman demonstrates compelling range and depth as the museum attendant, escorting the audience through art history, monarchies, mythologies, and intimate disclosures with ease and wit. The Buntport team’s dynamic script leaves one wanting more of the monologue, rather than less, and the overall effect is the same buoyancy — always earned through complexity — that they’ve shown in earlier productions.
Though the answers aren’t simple for the women of Rembrandt Room, their paths are marked by light and shadow.
Rembrandt Room plays at Buntport Theater until April 30. Monday, April 18 is pay-what-you-can night.