Tina Farmer – KDHX, December 9, 2015
Max and Louie Productions presents a thoughtful, moving premiere of director Ken Page’s original play, “Sublime Intimacy,” that explores the ways people respond to love and intimacy when it presents itself in unusual forms. The show is told through narration, monologue, and short scenes, with J. Samuel Davis anchoring as narrator, and presumed voice of the author, Tim Pace. He introduces us to a cast of characters deeply affected by the grace, beauty, and all-encompassing connection they felt, at some pivotal point in their life, towards a dancer.
The first act revolves around artist Gene Donovan and the dancer who served as his muse for a spectacular series of paintings. Early on we learn that Gene’s struggles to accept his sexual identity are also leaving him artistically blocked. It isn’t until he arranges to sketch student dancers working on a performance that he is able to once again paint. Driven by the unspoken bond he feels towards one of the dancers, he enters into a unique and strangely fantastic period of artistic inspiration. He expresses himself through a series of gorgeous paintings, created for the show by the impressive Marjorie Williamson, each seemingly more personal and revealing than the other.
The work interrupts his day job as an art teacher, a position he eventually loses causing him to leave the circle of confidants he has found in St. Louis. He gathers with his closest friends, established couple Don and Bill, and the perpetually single Katharine, for a going away party. During the party, Don and Katharine reveal dancers who cast a spell on them. The conversation turns on the idea of loves that went unpursued, and of the intangible but transcendent state of “Sublime Intimacy,” wherein one experiences a profound relationship that exists without physical interaction, often without explicit acknowledgement.
Narrator Tim Pace enters the story actively in the second half, and we learn about the dancer in his life after he becomes captivated by and purchases one of Gene’s paintings at a second hand store. Tim met Katharine when they were both working in New York, and through her the story comes full circle. The dancers are represented by Alfredo Solivan, he occasionally dances among and beckons the other characters, but primarily remains just out of reach.
Davis is strong and assured as the narrator, frequently addressing the audience with a charming, engaging manner. Michael Cassidy Flynn fills Gene Donovan with conflict and vulnerability that generates immediate sympathy. The weight of loneliness falls heavy on his shoulders, and also on Bethany Barr. She is resilient and fragile as Katharine, a woman who seems to only fall in love with gay men. John Flack and Reginald Pierre round out the cast in a number of roles, and they are endearing and painfully honest as lovers Don and Bill. The dance between the two men near the close of act one is at once overtly romantic, heartbreaking, and touchingly tender. Dancer Solivan is an ethereal presence in the show, saying volumes with an extended arm, backwards glance or effectively choreographed dance.
The set was accented by Williamson’s oversized paintings, which were draped at the show’s open, generating spontaneous positive response as each new painting was uncovered. An interesting bit of trivia is that Williamson was a student of the artist and teacher on whom the character Gene Donovan is based. The lighting, by Patrick Huber, was very specifically designed, and the purposeful darkness and shadow effective in conveying a variety of emotions; unfortunately, the actors and dancer frequently missed their mark the night I saw the performance.
The theme and the general story arc are strong and the show is an interesting, engaging production, however, “Sublime Intimacy” doesn’t quite come together for me. The script jumps awkwardly at times and is emotionally uneven. The dances, while compelling to watch, never went on for long enough and at times seemed haltingly and disconnected. Finally, I wanted the story to have more scenes, more interaction or near interaction, and less narration. The story and characters are interesting and rich with potential; I would like to see more of them. Still the production is quite enjoyable and I hope that playwright Page will continue to revise and work the script.
Max and Louie Productions premiere of “Sublime Intimacy,” running through December 20, 2015, is an intriguing story with a thought-provoking theme. St. Louis audiences will appreciate and recognize many of the of local references, and perhaps even some of the real names behind the characters, but the story and unique perspective holds appeal for broader audiences as well.