Claudia Shear and Natalija Nogulich in Restoration
(© Craig Schwartz)
Claudia Shear and Natalija Nogulich in Restoration
(© Craig Schwartz)
For the 500th anniversary of the creation of Michelangelo's world renowned statue of David in 2004, one woman was asked to restore the marble sculpture by removing centuries of dirt and grime and amending previous harmful attempts at restoration. Around this singular event, playwright and actress Claudia Shear has constructed her latest and somewhat problematic work, Restoration, which is receiving its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Giulia (Shear) is a disgraced restorer because of controversy surrounding her last assignment. She teaches at Brooklyn College, and lives alone, but still works at refining her craft in a rented garage space. Opportunity comes knocking at her door one morning in the person of her old teacher Professor Williams (Alan Mandell), who suggests that Giulia submit a proposal to the board administering the restoration of the David. She gets the assignment and is soon in Florence face to face and hand to buttocks with "David," carefully cleaning the marble and falling in love with the creation and its creator.

Unfortunately, Shear hasn't made Giulia a very likable or easily accessible character. She often takes her wrath out on Daphne (Kate Shindle), the beautiful young press person for the project who is going through a rough patch with her bedridden mother, and she is aloof and indifferent to both limping museum guard Max (Daniel Serafini-Sauli) and Beatrice (Natalija Nogulich), the no-nonsense Neapolitan cleaning lady, whom she encounters daily, both of whom have their own special relationship to the statue. But, as might be expected, Giulia's work on the David ultimately makes her more humane and willing to help the people around her.

Christopher Ashley's deft direction keeps the 95-minute play moving at a quick clip. He is aided tremendously by Scott Pask's simple yet effective scenic design; an obelisk containing various body parts of the statue and a scaffold of stairs and platforms on a turntable provide a varied look in scene after scene. David Lander's lighting is also pin-spot perfection.

The entire cast is quite good, with Mandell stealing every scene he's in as Professor Williams. The flashback to his college course in art appreciation, in which he delivers an inspired description of the David, is the play's stellar moment. Indeed, the play needs more writing on this level, and less time with the prickly Giulia, who is an uncomfortable companion to spend an evening with.