|Bill Dawes as Rudolf Nureyev and William Connell as Jamie Wyeth|
After playing in other parts of the country, the Delaware Theatre Company appropriately brings Nureyev's Eyes to the Brandywine Valley through a partnership with George Street Playhouse. Of course, the play has the connection to the area, but even if it didn't, this stirring two-man drama would still captivate.
From the elaborate set of Jamie's studio to the chic 70's costumes, this production gets everything right! Oh yes...and the actors who play the artists also deliver.
Told through a flashback, the 90-minute play gives a fictitious account of Jamie and Nureyev's collaboration over the span of 16 years. We watch the pair's prickly meeting at a posh Manhattan party, where Jamie's obsession to paint the dancer begins. Looking into Nureyev's eyes, Jamie sees the soul of the icon, and must make him his new muse. However, Nureyev is reluctant to work with Jamie, it takes some convincing for Nureyev to let the painter of pigs and cows paint him. Eventually he concedes to Jamie's requests and thus begins the tumultuous relationship.
Through riddles, the two perfectionists learn more about each other's passions, fears and insecurities. Although they do become friends -- Nureyev even visits Jamie and his wife in Chadds Ford -- they maintain their high expectations for this work. Neither man wants to compromise his artistic integrity; and so, lofty demands are placed on each other, leading to their many arguments.
Both also have great reasons for working on this project. For Jamie, the paintings will show his style and differentiate him from his family's legacy; for Nureyev, the paintings deliver him immortality. Nureyev also sees this as an opportunity for him to convince Jamie to give a good word about him to the head of the New York City Ballet -- a friend of Jamie's who soon will be naming the new Ballet Master in Chief, a job which Nureyev dearly covets.
Under Michael Mastro's masterful direction, both William Connell (Jamie) and Bill Dawes (Nureyev) prove they are outstanding actors. Mr. Connell's subtle performance beautifully captures a painter who is living in the shadow of his celebrated father and grandfather, while working to make his own mark in the harsh world of contemporary art. Although subtle, Mr. Connell shows great strength when verbally sparing with Mr. Dawes, who is stunningly scary as the intense, over-the-top star. Mr. Dawes achieves the great task of creating a full character that ends up being likable. He perfectly portrays both Nureyev's explosive diva-like persona and his sensitive, vulnerable side. Although defected from Russia many years ago to become an international star, even his fame, fortune and public adoration can't replace a family he misses and eliminate his fears of being followed by the KGB.
BTW - a few interesting facts learned at opening night - Nureyev is not pronounced as most people say it (Nur-e-ev), but is actually pronounced (Nur-a-ev). And the smock Mr. Connell wears in the play was loaned to the actor by Mr. Wyeth himself.
Nureyev's Eyes runs through March 20 at the Delaware Theater Company. Visit www.delawaretheatre.org or call 302-594-1100 for additional information and tickets.