Gay Chicago Magazine

November 2, 2006

Silk Road Theatre Project delivers a stunning world premiere of Richard Vetere's beautiful Caravaggio. This play dramatizes the turbulent life and career of the most revolutionary painter of the late 1600s-early 1700s, often credited as being the father of the Baroque. Passionate, at times violent and always unconventional, Caravaggio's life and breathtaking work makes for the perfect subject of theatrical interpretation.

Opening with a striking sword fight, we immediately see Caravaggio as a volatile figure. Following it up with an intimate love scene between him and his male lover, we see him as breaking convention personally as well as artistically. Throughout the story, two things are evident: Caravaggio's unparalleled artistic vision and his overpowering emotional chaos. He both loves and reviles the Catholic Church as he is heralded as a groundbreaking talent but criticized for his use of common people as inspiration for his Biblical renderings.

Director Dale Heinen compiles a gifted ensemble both on and off-stage to vividly bring this work to life. Lee Keenan's remarkable lighting design adds much to the dramatic moods of the play and recreates some of Caravaggio's masterpieces on stage with awe-inspiring effect. Cast members assume the positions of the painting's figures while Keenan's brilliant lighting accurately transforms the set and performers into a living, three-dimensional rendition of the magic created on the canvas. Robert Steel's sound design and original music are splendid additions to the atmosphere and overall excellence of the work. He manages to utilize the ins and outs of every corner and crevice of the stage with ingenious sound placement.

The cast is confident and captivating. Brenda Barrie's portrayal of Lena, Caravaggio's prostitute-model-female love interest, is exceptionally engaging as she delivers the most compelling passion in her performance. Levi Petree is subtly intense as Francesco, Caravaggio's male love interest. Ron Wells creates Carracci, Caravaggio's rival painter, with wonderful brooding depth, and Don Blair's Cardinal Del Monte adds biting wit and clever humor to the production. Mike Simmer's Caravaggio looks the part and has strong scenes but lacks the dimension and overwhelming presence needed to fully realize the script's lead. By and large, the performances, although at times a bit telegraphed, are excellent.

Despite the superb work and even astounding components to this production there is a deeper level of truth and intensity that somehow eludes the overall experience. Perhaps it is that Caravaggio's original work is so transcending that it partially eclipses the peripheral elements of his dramatic life. Or perhaps there is a lack of focus as the script includes many elements but never fully satisfies the pieces that it dissects. Nonetheless, this is a bold and exceptional theatrical accomplishment that should not be missed by lovers of both art and theatre.

Photo Credits   |   © 2015 Brenda Barrie