“Fake,” written and directed by Bess Wohl DRA ’02, attacks the issue of truth from a number of perspectives in often a clever way. Unfortunately, these perspectives fail to converge into a cohesive central theme, and the generally pedantic nature of the play’s monologues leaves the viewer feeling confused and patronized.
Though the program announces it is “based on a true story,” we nonetheless learn that large portions of the plot have been “fictionalized.” In the opening scene, the main character, Warner (William Theodore Thompson DRA ’02), tells the audience that if they get bored, they can amuse themselves by trying to guess which parts are true and which fake. This amusement can offer only so much relief during his extended bouts of philosophizing, however, and is supplemented by gratuitously comic characters — like a stock Italian portrayal of the painter Raphael, who cares less about truth than about sex and spaghetti.
The main plot revolves around Warner, the curator of a Los Angeles art museum who discovers that six of the Raphael drawings purchased by the previous curator are most likely fakes. Warner’s extreme morality is first opposed by his superior, Linda Walsh (Jeanine Serralles DRA ’02), who proposes that the truth be concealed to save the reputation of the museum. He then goes up against the former curator, Mr. Gold (Peter Macon DRA ’03). Gold asks him to weigh the six paintings against his own personal reputation, which would be compromised if Warner revealed that Gold paid $800,000 for the obvious fakes.
Part of the problem with this play is that the potential impact on the museum doesn’t match the force of Warner’s reaction. For someone with a moral system as strong as his apparently is, Warner struggles too hard with the issue. The arguments he faces are not convincingly dissuasive.
One of the most interesting and effective characters, then, is Herron (Derek Milman DRA ’02), who introduces new elements to the question of why truth matters. Milman blurs the lines between reality and falsehood, abruptly rising from the audience laughing in the midst of one of Warner’s reflections; when he is told to go back to his seat, he asserts that he is the painting forger Eric Herron. In a meta-theatrical moment, Warner refuses to believe him, to which Herron replies, “Well, you are not Warner, William Theodore Thompson!”
Even Milman’s antics, though witty and cute, become tedious eventually, and one is never sure in what direction all this is heading. The play drags on without resolving its myriad quandaries, and when it finally attempts to tie up the loose ends and deliver a greater message, one is left behind, wading through the pile of issues that have been thrown around and discarded along the way. Despite its clever premise, “Fake” gets bogged down by taking on too much. The good acting is not enough to distract from the overwrought rhetoric of the actors’ dialogues, and the attempts to keep it entertaining are a little obvious. This could be a much better play.