-Courtesy of Lantern Theater Company
Feature photo: Anthony Lawton, Paul L. Nolan, and Dan Hodge in Lantern Theater Company’s 2017 world premiere production of The Craftsman by Bruce Graham, streaming on demand March 2 – 28, 2020. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Lantern Theater Company continues its reimagined 2020/21 season with the announcement of Plays from the Lantern Archives, a new program celebrating some of the finest productions from recent seasons brought vividly back to life on screen. Plays from the Lantern Archives will launch with The Craftsman by celebrated Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham, directed by M. Craig Getting, and streaming March 2 – 28, 2021. Three plays by William Shakespeare will follow, all directed by Artistic Director Charles McMahon, including Measure for Measure (streaming April 6 – May 2, 2021), The Tempest (May 4 – 30, 2021), and Coriolanus (June 1 – 27, 2021). Tickets and additional information are available online at www.lanterntheater.org. Additional plays and events will be announced throughout the 2020/21 season as they are confirmed.
As with this season’s newly conceived filmed productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel, which is streaming now and extended through February 28, 2021, all productions from the Lantern’s archives were filmed at St. Stephen’s Theater by the Lantern’s Emmy Award-winning partners at Natural Light Films. While A Christmas Carol and Molly Sweeney were filmed without audiences due to Covid-19, productions from the Lantern’s archives were filmed with audiences present during their original performance runs and have been professionally edited.
Plays from the Lantern Archives will launch with The Craftsman, a darkly ironic tale of ambition, genius, and deception by celebrated Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham, streaming March 2 – 28, 2021. Commissioned and developed through the Lantern’s New Works Program, this world premiere production played to sold-out houses throughout its 2017/18 season run and was a smash hit with audiences and theater critics alike. For The Philadelphia Inquirer, Toby Zinman wrote: “Graham has given us not only a juicy slice of history, but also plenty of relevance to chew on as we contemplate the world.” Writing for WHYY News, Howard Shapiro said, “Riveting theater… a stirring world-premiere production from Lantern Theater Company.” DC Metro Theater Arts’ Deb Miller called The Craftsman “a richly layered examination of truth and deception, human motivation and widespread gullibility,” lauding both Graham’s script and the Lantern’s production: “Bruce Graham proves once again that he is a master at observing the human condition and understanding the deep-seated emotions that drive us. And the Lantern’s world-class production proves once again that this is the thinking person’s go-to theater company, delivering Graham’s insightful vision with a superb cast, director, and design team.” Directed by Lantern resident director M. Craig Getting, the cast of The Craftsman includes Mary Lee Bednarek, Dan Hodge, Anthony Lawton, Brian McCann, Paul L. Nolan, and Ian Merrill Peakes.
“We are thrilled to bring back The Craftsman for a limited streaming run,” said Lantern Artistic Director Charles McMahon. “It’s a terrific story, told by a brilliant Philadelphia playwright and featuring an exceptional cast of Philadelphia actors. When we originally created this world premiere production in 2017 after a series of developmental readings, the response from our audience was tremendous. The Craftsman was extended as long as possible before the next play in the season had to be produced. The true events in the story came as a real surprise to almost everyone in the audience, and we are gratified to share this opportunity for audiences to revisit Bruce Graham’s great play – or to discover it anew.”
From the ashes of World War II, Dutch patriots discover that one of their own – a rich and reputable art dealer – has sold rare Vermeer paintings to the Nazis. Accused of treason and on trial for his life, he must decide whether to destroy his own reputation or to reveal bigger secrets behind these works that the Dutch consider national treasures. The Craftsman uses the strange case of historical figure Han van Meegeren, a 20th-century Dutch artist and art dealer, to explore how we define and value art, the reverberations of war into peacetime, and how ethical actions in one world can fail in the next.
Johannes Vermeer was born, lived, and died in Delft during the mid-17th century, and his paintings are considered among the finest of the Dutch Baroque era. His works are beloved for their sublime depiction of light, the richness of his pigmentation, and their focus on the daily lives of the rising merchant class and their domestic servants in Vermeer’s contemporary society. Just 34 of his paintings are known to have survived, and they are concentrated in a few museum collections around the world, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (5), the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (4), the Mauritshuis in The Hague (3), the Frick Collection in New York (3), and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (3 confirmed, a fourth disputed). Vermeer has been the subject of countless biographies and novels, including Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, later made into the 2003 film of the same name directed by Peter Webber and starring Colin Firth as Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as his servant who became immortalized in his art. Illusionist Teller of Penn & Teller directed the 2013 documentary Tim’s Vermeer, produced by Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler, which focused on inventor Tim Jenison’s quest to reproduce Vermeer’s The Music Lesson to test his theory that Vermeer painted with the help of optical devices.
Three weeks after V-E Day when World War II victory was declared in Europe on May 8, 1945, Han van Meegeren was arrested in Amsterdam and charged with treason for having sold a Vermeer painting, considered a Dutch national treasure, to Nazi banker and art dealer Alois Miedl in 1942 – the punishment for which was death. Miedl sold the painting, Christ with the Adulteress, directly to German Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. Before the war, Van Meegeren had been an intermittently successful society portrait painter and art dealer, but his fortunes soared as the Nazis came to power and occupied the Netherlands. When the war ended and with his life at stake, Van Meegeren turned his trial into a very different self-indictment. He died in Amsterdam in 1947.
Inspired by Van Meegeren – and by all who collect art obsessively and value it highly – playwright Bruce Graham has created a fictional Van Meegeren who mesmerizes even while fully displaying his flaws and prejudices. After building a career based on craft and deception, his efforts to reveal the truth fall on deaf ears. At the same time, his jailors and prosecutor – men who fought in the Dutch Resistance during the war – are trying to rebuild their own lives, their careers, and civil society in the Netherlands during a period of scarce resources and moral uncertainty. Each character in The Craftsman must come to terms with his or her actions before, during, and after a war that witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust, the destruction of the continent’s economies, and the pillage of European culture.
The Craftsman director M. Craig Getting was honored to participate in the development of this commissioned work and approached the play as a jumping-off point to explore the allure of revenge, the problem with cultural gatekeepers, and the lies we accept in search of the truth. During a research trip to the Netherlands in 2016, Getting gained an understanding of how the Amsterdam of The Craftsman is a city deeply scarred but on the mend; its citizens have resisted the Nazi occupation, and they are now on the hunt for collaborators and enablers. “I was intrigued by the moral ambiguities embedded in the play – the hate felt by the victors toward the vanquished is calcifying and putting good people at risk of acting unethically now that they have power,” said Getting. “Given that the play hinges on the authenticity of a few Vermeers, the play also asks us to consider how authentic we need something to be, particularly an artwork, for it to be meaningful and valuable.”
“If art holds the mirror up to nature, then The Craftsman holds a funhouse mirror up to art,” said Charles McMahon. “Bruce Graham has created a fascinating world where the assumptions we make about the world around us keep shifting until the very notion of authenticity itself may seem like a shallow fiction.”
“To me the play is about overcoming hate,” said playwright Bruce Graham. “As I get older I realize that hate can be more corrosive than battery acid.”
Tickets for The Craftsman are $15 per household and are available online at www.lanterntheater.org or by calling the Lantern Box Office at (215) 829-0395. Ticket buyers will receive an email confirmation with full instructions and a private ticket access link, which will provide on-demand access to The Craftsman for one viewing anytime during the March 2 – 28, 2021 streaming period. The play can be viewed on most internet-connected devices with email/web browser access, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and select smart TVs. The Lantern Box Office will be accessible by phone and email for extended hours throughout the streaming period to provide assistance.