October 14, 2006
by Tom Williams
Silk Road Theatre Project’s mission to tell stories that run “The Silk Road from Italy to China” starts with Italy and a vivid drama about the nature of the creative process told through the life of 17th Century painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) know as the ‘Bad Boy of the Baroque.’ Playwright Richard Vetere captures the internal struggle Caravaggio faced trying in vain to curb his violent temper and erratic behavior while introducing (and mastering) the chiaroscuro technique know as tenebrism which utilizes dramatic lighting that features violent contrast of light and dark. Caravaggio starts with black and deep shadows with a direct focus of light to capture just the mood he desires. Add his use of common people in stark realism as he paints life from life in raw humanity, warts and all. His people are presented suffering from life’s dramas and not as idealistic pleasing figures most painters of his time offered. His work was controversial and innovative.
Caravaggio (here in a world premere) is a tightly written work filled with accurate references to the times and events in 1600 Italy. The power of the Church and the evil of The Inquisition are depicted. We see Caravaggio’s (Mike Simmer) temper in several well staged sword fights, his love of boys and his contempt for the money-grabbing artists who paint to please not to create their internal visions. Helped and protected by Cardinal Del Monte (Don Blair), Caravaggio developed his unique style in between drinking and brawling in Rome until he kills a man over an argument concerning a tennis score. Mike Simmers gives us a revealing honest look into all the contradictions that Caravaggio was, such as his deep empathy for capturing realistically common folks while aptly depicting his vision of religious events. We see Caravaggio appetite for boys and his wild drinking sprees. His temper overwhelms him out of frustration and a lifelong wonderment on how he alone survived the plague while all his family died. He struggles with finding his vision and his life’s purpose. The play’s structure deals with his angst. We witness his self destructive behavior and his torture at the hands of Alof de Wignacourt (Sean Sinitski at his sleazy best) while living in Malta.
Caravaggio is an intelligent look at the creative process and its effects on two artists---Caravaggio and his counterparty Carracci (terrific work from Ron Wells). Carracci paints to make money and to please his patrons; Caravaggio calls him a “public servant.” Carracci paints the ideal of beauty while Caravaggio depicts natural realism—how people actually are. We see how envious Carracci is toward Carravaggio’s genius and his courage to be true to his own vision. Caravaggio’s works contain vivid portraits of the violence and sadness of real life. This play is a portrait of an early rebel who attacked the status quo of the Church and Italian society. Mike Simmer gives him a vulnerability and humanity that speaks to us.
This is a well acted work filled with sharp lighting and nice set design by Lee Keenan. The use of period glimpses of Caravaggio’s paintings as backdrops added depth to the show. Mike Simmer’s Caravaggio is a memorable character worth getting to know. Silk Road Theatre Project is emerging as a quality theatre company as evidenced by this fine production.