Sunday, February 19, 2012

Palm Beach DramaWorks: The Pitmen Painters (5 Reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks opened its production of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters on February 17, 2012.  And they've already extended its run through March 11!
From the writer of Billy Elliot comes the triumphant true story of a group of British miners who discover a new way to express themselves and unexpectedly become art-world sensations!
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that included Kim Cozort, Dennis Creaghan, Rob Donohoe, Joby Earle, Betsy Graver, Colin McPhillamy, Declan Mooney, and John Leonard Thompson.

John Lariviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway:
John Leonard Thompson, as the instructor Robert Lyon, does a wonderful job showing his character quickly shift from tolerance of the group of men to appreciation... Kim Cozort as the wealthy supporter of the arts, Helen Sutherland, captures the right air and elegance, though she struggles with accent consistency.

Oliver Kilbourne (played by Declan Mooney) is the group member whose talent seems most promising. He battles taking a chance as a painter supported by Sutherland over the security in remaining a miner. His character is the most complete, and he shares a nice chemistry with Cozort in their scenes together. Dennis Creaghan as George Brown and Rob Donohoe as Harry Wilson colorfully argue policies and politics. Colin McPhillamy as Jimmy Floyd is quite funny as the fellow not quite as quick on the draw as his chums. The men in the cast all provide a feeling of familiarity that works well to flesh out their relationships with one another.

The production's scenic design depicts the modest meetings hall where most of the action takes place. Costume design by Erin Amico is a textural tableau of wools and tweeds on the men, and elegant dresses and rich tones on Kim Cozort as Helen Sutherland. Sound, perhaps because of the accents, is a bit of a problem as one has to strain to hear the actors. Projection work ably assists the display of pieces of art. One can not help but fall a bit in love with the story of this group of men and some of the deceptively simple paintings (all of them quite real) they produced.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
...perhaps because it was too busy being factual, the play never manages to muster much drama. The evening is intriguing -- there is surely a play in these miners’ story -- but this play is frustratingly inert.
Palm Beach Dramaworks certainly gathers a terrific company of actors for the play’s area premiere, but even they cannot hide the fact that their characters are rarely more than two-dimensional mouthpieces for the author’s arguments.

Oliver, played with understated sensitivity by Declan Mooney, is the only pitman who approaches a fully believable character. Colin McPhillamy as dense Jimmy Floyd gets some choice comic one-liners, but that’s really all we know about him. The rest of the miners are fine up to a point, but they have so few opportunities to distinguish themselves.

John Leonard Thompson (instructor Robert Lyon) is nicely unnerved by his students’ lack of knowledge, but he develops a palpable affection for them. And Kim Cozort adds a touch of class as art collector Sutherland, as well as showing off Erin Amico’s well-heeled costumes.

Director J. Barry Lewis stages the play simply and effectively, but it is hard to shake the feeling that there is a better play to be written about these pitmen artists from Ashington.
John Thomason reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
At two hours and 40 minutes, the work is entirely too long, and Dramaworks' director, J. Barry Lewis, can't milk enough energy out of a play that, too often, spins its wheels. The Pitmen Painters doesn't have enough new ideas to sustain its duration, instead relying on reiterations of previous motifs...
The production is an egalitarian showcase for the talents of Declan Mooney, as the group's most promising artist; Dennis Creaghan, as its intransigent supervisor; Colin McPhillamy, as its lovable simpleton; Rob Donohoe, as its dyed-in-the-wool Marxist; Joby Earle, as its youngest member, jobless and floundering; and John Leonard Thompson, as the mirthless instructor. Betsy Graver, as a nude model, and Kim Cozort, as an affluent art patron, are introduced later, though the latter has some trouble projecting her accent, making a portion of her dialogue difficult to grasp.
Par for the course at Dramaworks, the production's technical elements are outstanding in their subtlety and unobtrusiveness...

But the best aspects of the production are the projection screens hanging from the top of the set. Once, while the professor is telling the miners' story to a gallery audience, a rotation of paintings flows across the three screens, competing for our eyes' attention and usually winning. In a play that can feel too much like a movie, this is one moment that's grounded firmly in the theater.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Art as an ennobling sanctification for both the artist and the observer whose interpretation completes the symbiotic circle is just one of a dozen themes swirling around Palm Beach Dramaworks’ stimulating production of The Pitman Painters.
All this philosophy is made accessible by Lewis, South Florida’s expert at clearly depicting complex concepts, plus the down to earth performances from a troupe of Dramaworks’ veterans.
Earle gets one terrific aria, set as the war intensifies, in which the young man rages at his older friends for sticking to their modest themes in contrast to the agony convulsing the outside world as seen in Picassso’s Guernica.
All of them deliver seamless, credible performances, especially the men who are never quite comfortable in a world that they had been taught to believe was reserved for a more refined, intellectual class.
As always, Dramaworks’ skilled creative team creates a multi-sensory environment. Michael Amico... dials it back for a simpler but equally evocative multi-purpose scene lined with dark woods that could be the same ones used to shore up the galleries in the mines instead of the galleries in museums.
He’s aided immeasurably by the morphing lighting of Ron Burns, and Matt Corey’s jolting soundscape... Erin Amico has clad the men in a variety of modest tweedy Sunday-go-to-meeting outfits offset by rough work shoes.
The sole quibble is that Pitman is a small chamber piece and the natural reticence of its heroes sometimes makes the audience long for just a little more fire to drive the dramatic flow other than Earle’s outburst.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot (the inspiring story of a working-class boy whose life is transformed through dance), examines history, class, politics and all those artistic questions in his warm-hearted play. Though the second act gets weighed down by political content that isn’t as resonant here, the play is mostly beguiling. And Dramaworks... is giving The Pitmen Painters a superb production exquisitely staged by J. Barry Lewis.
George Brown (Dennis Creaghan) is the by-the-books union man. Harry Wilson (Rob Donohoe) is a passionate Marxist. Jimmy Floyd (the amusing and bemused Colin McPhillamy) is an easygoing fella who would rather paint dogs and still-lifes than convey the brutal underground world the men know so well. George Brown’s young nephew (Joby Earle) is a restless lad on the dole. Oliver Kilbourne (Declan Mooney) is the miner-painter whose compelling journey carries us through the play, as he moves from a world defined by hard work, sacrifice and duty into a place of creativity and critically impressive observation.

John Leonard Thompson plays Robert Lyon, the painter and teacher whose work alters the miners’ lives even if he doesn’t always grasp his own intellectual condescension. Kim Cozort is the upper-class art patron Helen Sutherland, an elegant woman who makes a potentially life-altering offer to Oliver, one complicated by class, simmering sexual tension and the miner’s fears. Betsey Graver has a sweetly comic turn as Susan Parks, a working-class model whose potential nudity throws the neophyte artists into a tizzy.

The production’s design elements are of a piece with the performances and direction: topnotch. Michael Amico’s meeting-hall set transforms into a manor house and an array of galleries, the latter thanks to Robert Goodrich’s multimedia effects. Erin Amico establishes era and class through her beautifully designed costumes. Sound designer Matt Corey bridges scenes with the overwhelming clang of the miners’ daily world. And Ron Burns works magic with his lighting, at one point simulating the slow departure of a train from its station.
Palm Beach DramaWorks has extended its run of The Pitmen Painters through March 18, 2012.

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