The masterminds behind ‘Masterpiece’

by Ann Fletcher

The cast of “Masterpiece” features, from left, Lou Dalessandro, as investigator Wooning; Scot Slusarick, as forger Han van Meegeren; Ashley Stowe, as Han’s wife, Jo; and Charles Muller, as art critic Abraham Bredius.

The intriguing story of one of the world’s most notorious art forgeries comes to Davidson Feb. 24, when the Community Players premier the intellectual thriller “Masterpiece.”

The World War II drama depicts the true story of Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, played by Scot Slusarick, and his painstaking plot to take vengeance on powerful art critic Abraham Bredius by forging a painting by 17th century Dutch painter Johnannes Vermeer.

After Bredius validates the painting as a newly discovered Vermeer, van Meegeren earns a fortune. For years, he continues his lie, painting fake Vermeers until one lands in the hands of high ranking Nazi field marshal Hermann Goering.

After the war, van Meegeren is arrested by Dutch authorities as a traitor for selling priceless Dutch artwork to the Nazis.

To avoid being hung, van Meegeren admits he’s a forger. To prove it, he paints another forgery for the court.

The play not only explores a pivotal point in art and world history, it also asks: What is art? What is great art? And who gets to decide?

“Bredius (classifies) one of these paintings as a masterpiece, and when he discovers it was forged by van Meegeren, whom he hates, he can’t bring himself to admit that it’s not still a masterpiece,” director Martin Thompson said.

Huntersville veteran actor Charles Muller plays Bredius, his first local role after moving from Long Island.

“Bredius is a very powerful critic who wants to maintain his authority at all costs,” Muller said, “and van Meegeren is the creative artist who insists on his right to create in spite of the criticism. Both characters, ultimately, are very sincere about what they are doing.”

Despite the conflict, Bredius maintains his power to tell the public what is and isn’t great art but faces his own comeuppance at the end of the show, Thompson said.

Award-winning playwright Meir Ribalow said his motivation to bring the historical drama to stage stems from his intrigue with the question of what’s real and what’s not.

“I was fascinated by the idea of reality and illusion, of truth and the mutable nature of truth,” Ribalow said by phone from New York.

The 1947 trial only lasted a few hours, so Ribalow focused the story on the investigation.

The truth was uncovered by Dutch investigator Wooning, played by Lou Dalessandro.

“I had this super cop who’s very quiet and logical and relentless,” Ribalow said. “The structure solved itself because it really was about the investigation and not the trial.”

Want to go?
Davidson Community Players presents “Masterpiece” Feb. 24-March 13 at Armour Street Theatre. Playwright Meir Ribalow will attend March 5 and 6 for a chat after the show. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. Recommended for ages 13 and older. For tickets, visit www.davidsoncommunityplayers.org or call 704-892-7953.

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