Some of the most memorable plays of recent decades have been what’s known as two-handers — pieces that focus on a pair of actors. Among the more notable are Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (which was recently revived on Broadway in a production starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon) and Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Talley’s Folly.”
“A Model of Matisse,” a comedy-drama running through Saturday in a Midnight Co. production, is a worthy addition to the genre. Co-written by Barbara F. Freed and Joe Hanrahan, the play is based on Freed’s 2006 documentary about 20th-century painter Henri Matisse and a woman with whom he enjoyed a platonic bond.
Monique Bourgeois (Rachel Hanks) and Matisse (Hanrahan) meet when she answers his ad for a “young and pretty night nurse.” But it’s not long before she becomes his model, as well as a friend and confidante.
Matisse is impressed with Monique’s taste and intelligence, but he’s taken aback when she becomes a nun called Sister Jacques-Marie. Still, their relationship survives — and sets the stage for the artist to embark on one of his most acclaimed projects: the Chapel of the Rosary in the south of France.
“A Model for Matisse” is best appreciated as a portrait of an unlikely but auspicious friendship. Director and sound designer Ellie Schwetye delivers an intimate experience that gets to the heart of humanity.
Hanrahan wears the role of Matisse like a tattered but cherished smock, embodying the painter as world-weary but not without humor. And Hanks appealingly traces the arc of her character’s evolution. Together, they conjure a chemistry that more than compensates for the play’s occasional wordiness.
“A Model for Matisse” is the kind of production at which the Midnight Co. excels.