End of Beauty

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Cory Hinkle’s new play, The End of Beauty, introduces Michael (Silas Weir Mitchell) in a monologue that reveals his growing dissatisfaction with his life as an art teacher. These feelings seem to be mostly balanced by his love for his wife, Margaret (Tania Verafield),  his own artistic endeavors, and his general comfort with being a homebody.

Margaret is also a visual artist and teacher, though at a more prestigious school. Their conversation is peppered with the minor annoyances of a longtime relationship that has lost its initial spark but remains steady.

That is until Margaret mentions that she ran into her star pupil, Sam (Ruy Iskander), at the mall. Sam is a talked-about artist, the kind who gets his picture on the cover of a magazine and who can actually make a living from creating art. Margaret has invited Sam to dinner the following evening. It’s unclear whether Michael’s defensiveness comes from jealousy of Sam’s success or his fear of Sam as a rival for Margaret’s affections.

Sam arrives the next evening with the ready smile of a snake oil salesman and a special gift for Margaret, who he sees as his muse. It is clear that Sam is determined to seduce Margaret, and this increasingly real possibility floats just below the polite conversation of acquaintances at an already awkward dinner.

But, even with the loosening power of liquor, the tensions remain unspoken and buried. Sam is a callow young man used to getting his way, but, apparently, he doesn’t like scenes. The second act follows the characters as their relationships unravel and their lives progress in ways they couldn’t have predicted.

Hinkle, at least in this play, uses monologues as a storytelling device. They are smartly written and filled with the kind of detailed images a visual artist might use. They also serve to keep the emotional life of the characters at a distance. This is obviously the playwright’s intention as, aside from the dinner, every crucial dramatic moment happens offstage with the details narrated by one of the characters.

The monologue technique finally pays off in the final moments of the play when Mitchell’s Michael rips open his heart while examining the disappointments in his life and the twisting path that has led him full circle. It is a raw and visceral speech and Mitchell, returning to the stage after 6 seasons on NBC’s “Grimm,” is simple, tender, and quite moving.

Verafield is a lovely Margaret and displays enough intelligence and sass to interest both men. Iskander’s Sam remains a surface creation, but the script doesn’t offer him much to explore. Intense chemistry between the two might have helped, but, like the characters’ emotions, their attraction remains tepid.

Barbara Kallir directs the proceedings efficiently, and, in what must be a challenge for scenic designers on a budget, Austin Kottkamp chooses pieces that could interest two fine artists.

As always, Playwrights Arena is to be commended for their dedication to producing new works by local playwrights.

Atwater Village Theatre    May 25 – June 17, 2019    www.playwrightsarena.org