by Lynn on November 3, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kate Cayley
Directed by Richard Rose
Designed by Charlotte Dean
Lighting by André du Toit
Starring: Geordie Johnson
Irene Poole

A provocative play that could use a sharper focus, but the production is first rate.

The Story. Han van Meegeren, the Dutch artist and Vermeer forger, is in jail for possible treason. He sold a Vermeer to Herman Goering. Van Meegeren protests the charge saying the painting—“Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery”—is actually a forgery. He’s certain of it because he painted it and passed it off as a newly found little known Vermeer. To add to the story, he didn’t forge an existing painting. He created a totally original painting in the style of Vermeer. His technique was so good Art experts said it was an original Vermeer. Van Meegeren’s aim was to make fools of the Nazis and give his people some hope.

He is interrogated by Geert Piller after the war. She is an art restorer and knows her art. She doesn’t believe that van Meegeren painted the painting because he’s only a minor painter and doesn’t have the ability. She questions him on how he was able to create paint that looked like it came from the 17th Century. He said Bakelite, a kind of plastic.

In her play, playwright Kate Cayley raises an interesting thought—if the painting is real then van Meegeren can be tried for treason and if found guilty he will be executed. If it’s proven a fake then he will be tried for forgery, which is a lesser crime.

Piller challenges him to prove that he in fact painted it since he boasts knowing Vermeer’s style so well. She asks him to paint “A Woman in a Blue Dress”—which Vermeer had painted. She will be the model. The results are not what she expected but she is moved to tears anyway. He has recreated not “A Woman in a Blue Dress”, but “Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery.”

The Production. Set designer Charlotte Dean has created a room with upturned chairs and a table. There is a mess of stuff in the lower stage right corner: brushes, paint stuff, junk etc. I thought I might be looking at a corner of Francis Bacon’s paint studio—that was one dump of a mess, but the guy could work in that chaos so who am I to gripe. There is a heavy door stage left.

The door creeks open and van Meegeren (played by Geordie Johnson) comes into the room and stands before us—good suit, hair slicked back, dashing. He talks of Lucifer who he considers to be the ultimate faker who fooled God into believing he was something he was not. He made a fool of God and that’s what van Meegeren says he wants to do with the Nazis, to fool them with the painting.

Johnson is compelling, devilish, charming, and dangerous. You can see how he would draw people in to believing him. He certainly puts the charm on Geert Piller. And he’s full of conviction when talking about his art. He pops morphine tablets as if they were mints. Van Meegeren is a drug addict and alcoholic.

As Geert Piller, Irene Poole is also formidable. She is out to break van Meegeren and she is ruthless, cold and unbending. She too is full of conviction when talking about art and certainly about what van Meegeren has produced.

It’s directed by Richard Rose and with his designers—Charlotte Dean on the set and costumes, and the lighting by André du Toit—he has put us into that world.

When van Meegeren is painting Piller in her blue dress, Andre du Toit recreates the light in the painting that is terrific. Moody, eerie, arty.

Comment. What is the playwright Kate Caylie trying to say in The Bakerlite Masterpiece? I don’t know. Truly. Cayley has written dialogue that is complex and lyrical at the same time. It’s very articulate. It expresses ideas, but as for the play’s theme and focus I just don’t know.

She writes in such broad, vivid brush strokes that the small details are lost. Is she saying that in art we can’t tell the fakes from the real paintings? In reality van Meegeren wanted to get back at the critics who dismissed his work so he created a fake Vermeer and got his revenge when they said it was real. If that’s the point of the play, then I think Miss Cayley has to be more focused and clear. Piller says that van Meegeren is such a minor painter he just couldn’t paint this fake as he says he does. If Piller knows it’s a fake what difference does it make who painted it? What am I missing?

Miss Cayley says the play is fiction with a kernel of fact at the centre. With her elegant dialogue and interesting ideas Miss Cayley has a kernel of a play at its centre. I think it needs another pass and more rigorous attention to what she really wants to say.

Produced by the Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Oct. 29, 2014
Closes: Nov. 30, 2014
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 75 minutes, approx.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sally November 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

Bakelite was not invented by van Meegeren. It is an plastic first used in the early 1900’s and he was not repainting a Woman in a Blue Dress but doing a brand new image, in the play.


2 reeva solomon November 8, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I agree the play is too static but there is some argument about what is real, ‘plastic’,
or fake; what reflects the artist’s persona and what is just a pastiche of his style.
Geert Piller’s character is just not clear enough, is her anger because van Meegeren fooled even her or what did happen to her family? Was she Jewish, as van Meegeren implies. A lot of loose ends that do not explain her pity at the end.