Written and directed by
Canberra Theatre Centre to 28 November
Reviewed by Len Power
25 November 2021
In ‘Chiaroscuro’, David Atfield has taken a painting by the
artist Caravaggio as inspiration for his new play that focusses on a short
period of the artist’s life in Sicily and his fictitious relationship with a
young male prostitute.
‘The Raising of Lazarus’ was painted in about 1609 and hangs in the Museo Regionale, Messina in Sicily. Caravaggio lived and painted in Sicily for some time after fleeing from Rome as a result of a murder he had committed.
In the play, Caravaggio has employed the prostitute, Gregorio, as the model for his painting of Lazarus. A relationship develops between them as work on the painting progresses. The two men are very different. Caravaggio seems intelligent and educated in comparison to the young man who is street-wise with coarsely original views on life and religion.
Mark Salvestro is a thoughtful and sensitive Caravaggio in his relationship with the young man and he also displays a steely resolve under the surface and a hint that violence is not far away. Shae Kelly is convincing as Gregorio, a rough young man living on his wits who has seen the dark side of human nature in his work as a prostitute.
|Shae Kelly (Gregorio) and Mark Salvestro (Caravaggio)
The contrast between these two very different men mirrors the light and dark, the chiaroscuro, in Caravaggio’s paintings. While this is a fictional story about the artist, Atfield’s skilful character writing draws us into this relationship between the two men. The use of modern day language and expression gives this period story greater accessibility for today’s audiences.
The set and costume design by Rose Montgomery nicely evokes a sense of the period and the lighting design by Gillian Schwab is excellent, capturing the look of Caravaggio’s art.
Atfield keeps the story moving at a good pace. The intimate scenes between the men are played with sensitivity. He has obtained in-depth performances from his actors but the amount of nudity in the production seemed excessive, given that in the finished painting, Lazarus is modestly covered. The growing relationship between these men and its outcome was of more interest than the eroticism.
Without giving away too much plot-wise, the sudden introduction of a supernatural element at the end of the play seemed contrived. Nevertheless, this play has well-written characters, a period story that is compelling and engaging and a fine production design.
Photo by Sam Kennedy-Hine
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