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“Destroying David” by Harbinger Theatre is a work about love, loss and art

Scene from "Destroying David"
Adam Wilson-Hwang
Harbinger Theater
A scene from "Destroying David"

Destroying David” is a fascinating new play being offered by Harbinger Theater at Opalka Gallery in Albany.

Since the play is an ode to the beauty and resilience of art, it is offered with Judith Braun’s provocative art exhibit “My Pleasure” as a background, an ideal setting for this thoughtful work. It’s available for viewing with the price of a ticket to “Destroying David.”

Though a couple of characters enter the play through the central figure’s mind, “Destroying David” is essentially a direct address play that is jam packed with information. It’s part history lesson about Michelangelo’s priceless sculpture; but it’s also a love story and the importance of all art.

The premise is an unnamed art restorer has just lost his deeply loved husband to a rare form of heart cancer. In order to make the world understand and share his pain, he plans to destroy one of the world’s most iconic pieces of art.

As the restorer rationalizes his decision, he speaks in adoring terms of the beauty of the statue of David, it’s history and meaning to the world. It soon become clear that David represents all that is so ephemeral as to be indescribable by words alone. Its importance can only be realized by its loss.

The work makes clear that this transcendental type of love is capable towards humans as well. The circle is complete by having the deceased husband named David.

“Destroying David” is both eloquent and passionate. Playwright Jason Odel Williams has the remarkable ability to deliver an enormous amount of information in a way that is illuminating beyond simple metaphor. This is a work where language is the star.

Though it often becomes dangerously close, he is able to avoid “Destroying David” appear an hour long monologue or an art history lesson.

He breaks the monologue by introducing several character’s - like Michelangelo, the deceased husband and others - who engage with the restorer. They are all played by Chris Foster, who walks a delicate balance between silliness and people who offer valuable insights. One could debate the use of comically bizarre freight wigs to signal they are imaginary individuals, but Foster overcomes the distraction by creating honest and wise characters.

Patrick White plays the demanding role of the restorer who must go through a wide range of emotions. Throughout, White remains conversational in tone and plays his pain internally rather than overtly.

White touches the audience by creating a man in conflict. The pain of losing his husband is palatable and his love and respect for enduring art makes for a dilemma if he is to go forward with his plan.

Indeed, this conflict, as written, gives the work a major flaw. The restorer is such a rational thinker and a lover of art, there is no time during the performance you can believe he would destroy David. You listen to threats, but they sound idle. This reduces any tension within the play.

However, what is left is a lovely, sad and touching portrait of a person in pain who is saved by love of beauty rather than the destruction of same.

Special credit should be offered to Director Amy Hausknecht, who keeps the play in balance throughout and helping her actors find the best way to express their love of creativity. Too, Nick Nealon’s wonderful visual images of the David and projections of other pieces are critical visual aids.

“Destroying David” continues at Opalka Gallery on the Albany campus of Russell Sage College on New Scotland Ave. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets can be had by going to the Eventbrite website.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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