NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The companionship/conflict between artist Jamie Wyeth and Rudolf Nureyev makes for a striking two-character play by David Rush.
Directed by Michael Maestro, the tension builds as Nureyev insists that Wyeth can’t begin to capture his movement, despite numerous sketches and long hours of interaction.
Bill Dawes perfectly captures the haughty grandeur of the ballet master, still fearing the KGB despite his years in America. He also projects the grace of the dancer. In one scene, he demonstrates steps to the painter, trying to inject him with the sense of movement that defines those immersed in the ballet world.
In the first scene, we can immediately recognize Nureyev’s high cheek bones and glamour as he sits before a mirror applying makeup, especially to those eyes. And he dazzles with appearances in a flourishing, 18th century costume from the Wyeth collection and then a long fur coat some years later, counteracting his insistence that he never wears furs.
William Connell plays Jamie Wyeth, son of Andrew Wyeth, who has his own struggles in developing not just his talents but an inner truth. Connell provides a compelling contrast to Dawes as he continues to search for the key to the dancer’s persona.
Most of the action takes place at the painter’s studio, with occasional references to Wyeth’s home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. (The Brandywine Museum of Art displays works by the Wyeth family.) Although they come from different worlds, they gradually develop respect and affection for each other.
The lobby of the theatre exhibits a number of Wyeth’s paintings and sketches of the dancer. The set design by Esther Arroyo holds intriguing details, with shelves of glasses and pottery, an easel and various props. When Nureyev offers Wyeth some strong vodka, the Russian dancer notes that it’s hard to believe ‘it comes from potatoes.’
The play starts out on a low key and is interspersed with monologues by Wyeth, helping us bridge the transitions as Nureyev explodes with anger about the changing hierarchy at Lincoln Center. He apparently had little use for Jerome Robbins or Peter Martins. The play begins in 1977 and follows Nureyev’s life until his death in 1993.
“Nureyev’s Eyes” continues at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, through Feb. 21. For tickets, call 732-246-7717 or visit GSPonline.org.