Thursday, May 20, 2010




A play by Claudia Shear

Directed by Christopher Ashley

Starring Tina Benko, Jonathan Cake, Alan Mandell, Natalija Nogulich, Claudia Shear

April 30-June 13, 2010

New York Theater Workshop

79 East 4th Street

Would Italian art authorities really entrust the cleaning of Michelangelo’s David in honor of its 500th birthday to a hot-tempered, little-known art restorer from Brooklyn? Claudia Shear, who wrote and stars in Restoration, thinks so.

Shear, whose brashness is her best feature, plays Giulia, an Italian-American restorer whose career has hit the skids. Thanks to an old professor friend, who tells her she’s in the running for the position to clean the sculpture, Giulia travels to Florence, where her presentation impresses the board responsible for choosing the restorer, and soon she has the job.

Once she begins work on the statue, Giulia is beset with all manner of distractions. Daphne, the museum’s sexy spokesperson, is a tall, willowy blonde whose cell phone rarely leaves her ear, even while she’s stalking the gallery in high heels: needless to say, she and Giulia loathe each other at first sight. (Marciante, another board member, is less confrontational.) Cleaning women and annoying tourists and locals also walk past; then there’s Max, the gorgeously dark and virile security guard who limps (wait until you discover why!) and carries on increasingly flirty conversations with Guilia about everything from art to sex to being American and Italian.

These diversionary tactics—occasionally diverting, mostly labored—are needed because Restoration is otherwise plotless, showing how Giulia, while cleaning David, is slowly restoring her personal life and professional reputation. Although the lesser characters make token appearances throughout, Giulia unsurprisingly becomes closest to Max, allowing Shear to script amusing flirtations between a hot Italian man and a dowdy American woman, apparently under the assumption that Italian men will screw anybody.

A few illuminating bits of dialogue about art or relationships (between men and women or a woman and the statue she’s cleaning) are heard, although Shear too often reaches for cheap jokes as Giulia cleans David’s private parts. The cast gets little chance to rise above the stock characters, except Jonathan Cake, whose Max is an appealing blowhard. Shear’s self-effacing put-downs and quick retorts constitute a performance that never convinces us that she’s a serious art restorer.

Director Christopher Ashley uses the whole of the New York Theater Workshop’s stage to savvily suggest the Galleria dell'Accademia come to life. Thanks to Scott Pask’s ingenious scenic design, Ashley fashions a suitable replica of the great Florentine museum; the decision to turn David into a Rubik’s cube (or Cubist painting) by jumbling the parts that Giulia works on is particularly inspired.

Too bad Restoration can’t conjure up similar theatrical magic: by the time this lightweight 90-minute play ends, we’re no closer to figuring out why Shear wrote it.

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