Reviewed by Judy Richter
There's more than passing resemblance in the relationship between the older married couple in Mat Smart's "The Hopper Collection" and the older married couple in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" In the world premiere production by San Francisco's Magic Theatre, Smart's Marjorie (Julia Brothers) and Daniel (Andy Murray) have a highly contentious relationship, primarily, it seems, because Marjorie's behavior is erratic, sometimes bordering on psychotic. Daniel is a wealthy art collector, while Marjorie is obsessed with artist Edward Hopper, whom she met briefly at her father's house when she was about 18. To please her, Daniel has bought her one of Hopper's paintings, "Summer Evening," which hangs in their living room.
As the play opens late one summer afternoon, the couple are getting ready for two guests who have asked to see the painting. Ordinarily Marjorie turns down all such requests, but the one from Edward (Zac Jaffee) is different. He's a young man, perhaps college age, who has been given about three months to live because he has a brain tumor. He is to be joined by his girlfriend, Sarah (Anna Bullard), an art student with whom he has been reunited after a long separation. It turns out that Edward wasn't entirely truthful, for Sarah is actually Natalie, whom Edward met during his search for Sarah. However, she's an attractive, caring, level-headed young woman, and they are falling in love. In the meantime, their hosts are working through their own issues as the audience learns more about Marjorie's Hopper obsession and Daniel's reaction to it.
The action takes place in the modernistic living room of Marjorie and Daniel's house. There's little furniture, and the painting hangs on a pillar unseen by the audience. (However, a copy can be seen in the theater lobby after the performance.) The living room opens to a terrace with a view of a bucolic countryside. According to director Chris Smith, Eric Flatmo's set design was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House at Stanford University. Christopher Studley's lighting gradually changes as evening approaches. Smith's program notes also say that Callie Floor's costumes were influenced by designer Claire McCardell, while sound designer Yvette Janine Jackson uses Cole Porter's music as her source.
The playwright doesn't develop Sarah and Edward as well as their hosts, but Jaffee and Bullard make them appealing, perhaps -- in retrospect -- as foils to the absurdist qualities of the older couple. It's not always easy to figure out what's going on between Marjorie and Daniel, but Smith's direction and the skilled acting by Brothers and Murray keep audience interest high. In fact, interest has been so high that the play has been extended for three weeks through Dec. 31.