ANOTHER VERMEER

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Art forger Han van Meegeren has been imprisoned by the Dutch following the 
end of World War II for having allegedly sold a beloved national treasure—an 
original Vermeer—to Nazi Reich Marshall Hermann Goering. His defense? That 
he was in fact a patriot who saved many Dutch lives. The painting, he asserts, 
was one he had forged, and the fortune Goering paid for it ($7 million in 
today’s currency) was money that otherwise would have gone into the war 
effort.  Criminal or patriot?  Artist or swindler?

These are the questions posed by Bruce J. Robinson in his mostly very interesting 
(and informative) world premiere play, Another Vermeer, which has the good 
fortune to be graced by Robert MacKenzie’s tour de force performance as 
Van Meegeren and fine direction by Alex Craig Mann.

We first meet the diminutive Van Meegeren in his prison cell in the midst of 
painting Brahm, his 6-foot-plus hunk of a guard, as Jesus. Van Meegeren’s 
plan, we soon learn, is to create yet “another Vermeer,” so true to the style of 
the master painter’s original work that it will become clear that Van 
Meegeren did indeed sell a forgery to Goering.

Though Van Meegeren is visited (in fantasy and in reality) by Abraham Bredius 
(the art critic who had declared a previous forgery the real thing) and by the 
ghosts of his mentor Bartus Korteling and of Vermeer himself, Another    
Vermeer’s most compelling scenes are those between Van Meegeren and 
Brahm, the not terribly bright guard who, thanks to Van Meegeren’s influence, 
finds himself opening up to a world he had never before known existed—the 
world of art.

Bringing this relationship to life are two fine, and very different, performances. 
As Van Meegeren, MacKenzie is all frantic movement and energy while Joe 
Briggs as Brahm could just as easily be playing an NFL football player named 
Moose, though with a glimmer of light shining in his eyes that shows evidence 
of an as yet unexplored intelligence.  Though from the beginning Van 
Meegeren tells Brahm, “Even though you are my guard, you are my 
inspiration,” Brahm is clearly not comfortable or pleased with wearing a Biblical 
robe and posing as Jesus.  Loosen up, Van Meegeren keeps trying to tell him, 
but to no avail. Still, Brahm is being paid for his time, and little by little a 
friendship grows between the two men.

MacKenzie’s energy level never diminishes, and we believe him when he says 
that besides having married twice, he has known hundreds, perhaps 
thousands, of beautiful women. The actor reveals Van Meegeren’s pride, as 
well as his human self-doubts when he declares to Brahm, “I don’t give a hoot 
what anybody thinks,” and in the same breath, “What do you think?” Like Van 
Meegeren, we first see Brahm as the “nitwit” the painter/forger refers to him as, 
but Briggs lets us see the inchoate intelligence lurking beneath the surface, 
and a final scene between the two men is all the more powerful because we 
have followed the path of Brahm’s art education.

The other relationship which grabs our interest is the one between Van 
Meegeren and Bredius.  Van Meegeren’s primary weapon is the knowledge 
that his greatest forgery, a supposed Vermeer entitled The Disciples at 
Emmaus, had fooled art expert Bredius, and Bredius’ primary fear is that his 
blunder will be made public. Bredius’ visit to Van Meegeren in his cell leads to 
a battle of wills between the two men, and some powerful acting by 
MacKenzie and James Sloyan.

Van Meegeren could have exposed Bredius’ mistake years before, but that 
would have meant giving back the money (about $4 million in today’s 
currency) he earned from the sale, money which went towards a villa in Nice 
which he filled with authentic masterpieces. Now, in order to prove that he is 
indeed capable of having produced “another Vermeer” with such 
verisimilitude that it could fool Goering, he needs to convince Bredius that the 
art critic was indeed hoodwinked, and for the critic to admit to his error, 
something the man refuses to do.

Michael Yavnielli does fine work as Dutch officer Keller, initially smugly 
convinced of Van Meegeren’s guilt, and of the punishment he deserves.  
Yavnielli is especially good in the scene in which Keller describes with pleasure 
every little detail of the death by hanging that he feels Van Meegeren so richly 
deserves.

Allen Williams appears in two dream sequences, first as Van Meegeren’s very 
theatrical, ascot-wearing mentor, and later as Vermeer. Though no fault of the 
actor, I found my interest lagging and attention wandering during these 
scenes filled with esoteric dialog.

Design-wise, Another Vermeer couldn’t be better. Jeff G. Rack’s set for The 
Monkey Jar has been transformed into the Amsterdam garret where Van 
Meegeren is being kept under lock and key, Meghan Hong’s lighting allowing 
the set to also serve as a courtroom, a museum, and locales in Van   
Meegeren’s imagination.  Holly Victoria has provided era appropriate 
costumes for the characters. Best of all is David Bartlett’s sound design, with its 
slamming prison doors, argumentative voices echoing in Van Meegeren’s 
mind, and increasingly rapid heartbeat as Van Meegeren struggles to 
complete his painting before the two month deadline.

With its companion piece, The Monkey Jar, Theatre 40 now has a pair of 
intelligent world premieres running concurrently on its stage. Though not as 
compelling as The Monkey Jar, its subject matter a bit drier, Another Vermeer is 
sparked by fine acting and sharp writing, and I learned something about 
someone who shortly before his death was, amazingly, the second most 
popular man in the Netherlands.  

www.theatre40.org

–Steven Stanley
February 27, 2008
Photo: Ed Krieger

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