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Fraud and authenticity in the New York art world

by John Angell Grant Daily Planet Correspondent
Friday September 28, 2001

Berkeley Repertory Theater has kicked off the opening of its 34th season, in the company’s new Roda Theater, with a hypnotic world-premiere production of Naomi Iizuka’s new play, “36 Views.” 

Set in the pretentious and rapacious world of New York art dealers, critics and academics, “36 Views” is an intriguing mystery about fraud and authenticity in the discovery and collecting of historic fine art. 

Questions of artistic value, financial worth and personal self-identity are reflected and refracted back and forth inside the play’s complex psychological, financial and artistic hall of mirrors. 

In “36 Views,” slippery yuppie art dealer Darius Wheeler (a charming, Machiavellian, self-doubting Bill Camp), buys, sells and smuggles art genuines and fakes. 

When a 1,000-year-old Japanese “pillow book” materializes, it threatens to revolutionize the history of Asian art and turn the academic world on its ear. 

In this pillow book, a feminist account of love and infidelity reveals itself unexpectedly as a story of unfolding lesbian and bisexual love. “36 Views” turns the tables several times in the course of unraveling its tale.  

The play hits many themes, focusing on the ideas of authenticity, inauthenticity and value in art, human character and human relationships. 

This story of life in the cultural fast lane threatens to reveal itself at times as a mysterious and complex network of style, with nothing of substance at the center. 

But the story is not that cynical. In the final analysis, love saves it – maybe. “36 Views” is a romance, of sorts. 

Director Mark Wing-Davey’s production is superb, right up there with his “Galileo” from last year. “36 Views” is filled with magical, unexpected, sexy, suddenly changing visual and aural story elements. 

The acting is strong. All of the characters are interesting and distinctive. All of them have arcs that show them at the end as people different than they appeared to be originally. 

Camp is wonderful as smooth, slick, swashbuckling art dealer Darius. Liana Pai is his equal as art scholar Setsuko Hearn, matching wits in a romantic and financial cat-and-mouse game. 

Elaine Tse is effective and sexy as punky, wise-ass, mixed-media artist Claire. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is a surprising grad student turned con man. 

Peter Donat is amusing as a blustering, naive academic orientalist. Rebecca Wisocky has surprises up her sleeve as supposed art smuggler Beth. 

The electronic tech is strong in this new millennium story about art in the global village. 

Projection designer Ruppert Bohle provides strong story continuity with rear wall projections that join scenic designer Douglas Stein’s hanging designs, ultimately tying the story together in its final moments. 

Stein’s beautiful, versatile sliding-screen set tells the story simultaneously in one world and many worlds. 

Both David Weiner’s, abruptly changing lighting plot and Matthew Spiro’s sound design, play strong parts in the drama. 

For those who enjoy stylish, intellectual potboilers, this show’s for you. 


Planet theater reviewer John Angell Grant has written for “American Theatre,” “Backstage West,” “Callboard” and more. E-mail him at