David Atfield’s ‘Chiaroscuro’ is a Bold and Joking Version of the Model-Painter Dynamics | Canberra Times

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Chiaroscuro. Written and directed by David Atfield. Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theater Center. Until November 27th. Inspired by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s commissioned religious painting “The Raising of Lazarus”, David Atfield’s latest play Chiaroscuro is a fascinating and captivating account of the imagined relationship between Caravaggio (Mark Salvestro) and his naked male model Gregorio (Shae). Atfield plays out his historical drama in Caravaggio’s studio in the early years of the 17th century, commonly known as the Baroque period after the Reformation. Designer Rose Montgomery has set the stage against the backdrop of a powerful red draping. A clothesline hung with coarse linen and a large sheet on which images of Caravaggio’s work are subtly projected are stretched across the stage. Fruit and wine conjure up an image of still life paintings on the wooden table, and the whole atmospheric setting simply and effectively reveals the artist’s studio in Messina. In a drama as bold as baroque art, Atfield’s preoccupation with the homosexual relationship between his two characters serves as an exploratory and intriguing entrance into the search for truth. Desire, love and logic collide in a swirling dialectic of passion and reason, while the homeless, street-wise Gregorio lures the artist through the shadows of guilt to the light of confession. Caravaggio is forced to admit a violent past that contrasts with the beauty of his art. Model becomes Inquisitor while the artist struggles to unlock the dark and hidden truths of life. Atfield avoids faithful observance of the period. His language is contemporary. The same goes for singer-songwriter Troye Sivan’s music and the inclusion of Losing My Religion by REM. This gives the drama an impulsive and spontaneous force. There is a visceral effect as powerful as Caravaggio’s brushstrokes across the canvas. The intimacy between the characters is played with compulsive honesty that becomes even more believable by the intimacy of the Courtyard Studio. Atfield instructs with a keen eye for an alternative meaning behind Caravaggio’s art. His actors are passionate about the truth of the moment. Their performances give the play historical fascination and thought-provoking debate about homosexuality, art and religion. Intellect and instinct fight for supremacy, while Salvestro’s Caravaggio fights for artistic perfection, and Kelly’s street wise Gregorio exerts the powerful sexual impulse to survive in a harsh and violent world. Chiaroscuro is more about the vulnerability of human nature than an attempt to portray the brutal and dangerous conditions of the period. Salvestros Caravaggio is more victim than known demon, while Kelly’s animal Gregorio is true to himself. Audiences need to look beyond Gregory’s full frontal nudity, homo-erotic sex scenes, or the productive use of explosives to fully appreciate Atfield’s continued preoccupation with queer theater. In a game of conflicting contrasts, Atfield’s purpose is provocation, both confrontational and inviting. If this production is representative of the standards expected from selected works in the Canberra Theaters’ New Works initiative, then audiences can look forward to more exciting and innovative local theater. Chiaroscuro’s season was short, but hopefully it can have a longer season in the future. Atfield and his cast and creatives examine Caravaggio’s eerie depiction of Lazarus’ resurrection to reveal a deeper meaning that will linger long after you leave the theater.



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