Monday, August 26, 2013

Long Live The Little Knife: Authentic Drama About Fakes

With humor and pathos a con man and woman tell their tale...or well perhaps a playwright who met them in a pub is telling their tale--changing their words and accents to make things more dramatic.
"Meta narrative. Get it up ye," says one of the cons.  Meta narrative indeed.  With con artists you never quite know what you are to believe (and maybe with playwrights for that matter).  This play may lay its cards on the table up front...but know this, you're playing three card monte.  Nothing is to be trusted.

Authorship, reality, integrity, love, and honor are all blended into this funny, dark, and yet totally human story involving art forgery, mediums, brothels, and East End heavies.  For the joie de vivre of con artists on the rise, and the giddy glee that the audience might take from being in on the con, there will be serious consequences and some will be enacted upon the couple and their labradoodle who is "not real."

"Well real dog...not real pedigree."

David (Neil McCormack) and Liz (Wendy Seager) were "just trying to make an honest living selling fake handbags" when they got into a turf war with a criminal element.  They then concoct an elaborate plan to steal a painting, sell forgeries of the painting, and then reveal their derring-do so they become famous and can get a "reality TV show about fakes."

In a room covered in drop cloths and paint spatter, and with occasional projections to visualize the art being forged, I was immediately charmed by Long Live the Little Knife, written and directed by David Leddy.  And the material is helped immensely by his cast who shape shift throughout the play yet maintain an unwavering integrity of their characters.  Neil McCormack and Wendy Seager, as the cons, are never not persuasive, whether they are showing off, totally sloshed, or losing their edge. Reminding me that acting is a really successful con, isn't it. Seager in particular races round the stage with a series of put on personas, emotional setbacks, and is reborn onstage over and over again with each personal defeat.  Watching her be torn down and rebuilt, over and over again, is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  

Theater may be the best place to talk about authenticity and truth as the immediacy of the artificiality of it all is within arm's reach.  And a con involving art forgery is a great way to layer further questions of authenticity on top of that (and as someone who has spent more time reading the Art Forger's Handbook than most, I will admit to being the exact right audience member for this show).  But the payoff has to work, otherwise you can stretch your contract with the audience too thin.  For me, it did.  For all the twists and turns, Leddy has most importantly created characters who are flawed, human, and vulnerable.  The play may be coy at times, and give the illusion of an easy-peasy, lemon squeezy lark, but you feel its heft.  

A dark and delicious triumph and one of my favorites at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

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