In the world of art, there is a symbiotic relationship between the person who authenticates a painting’s attribution and the one who negotiates the deal to its completion and sale.  Meet Bernard Berenson, originally from Lithuania, who became an American art historian who specialized in the Renaissance and in authenticating those works of art known as the “Old Masters.”

For many years Berenson, known to his friends as B.B., had a financial agreement with the popular art dealer Joseph Duveen, with Berenson’s opinion on the value and provenance of the art helping Duveen to consummate the sale.  Often the collectors, although armed with financial means, lacked the artistic expertise to know if a painting were the original or merely an excellent copy.

Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven invites you to gather in the courtyard of B.B.’s Italian villa I Tatti in Florence in 1937 and again in 1965 for the United States premiere of “The Old Masters” by Simon Gray until Sunday, February 13.

A masterful Sam Waterston plays the dignified but crafty B.B. who likes the world’s game to be played by his rules.  While he loves his wife Mary (Shirley Knight), an art critic in her own right, he feels he is entitled to carry on an affair with Nicky Mariano (Heidi Schreck), his secretary and librarian, and also with the Swedish masseuse for good measure.

In his dealings with Duveen, he feels he is being disrespected, with Duveen receiving the lion’s share of the profits after he, B.B., puts his seal of approval on a sale.  Duveen has become wealthy purchasing European art from aristocrats down on their luck and reselling it to millionaires in America.  Duveen has sent his representative Edward Fowles (Rufus Collins) to the villa as an advance man to plead his case, but he is unsuccessful.

The shrewd Duveen, played by a pompous and promising Brian Murray, has now arrived uninvited to I Tatti to make B.B. an offer he cannot refuse…as long as B.B. confirms that a painting in question, the Adoration of the Shepherds, was actually painted by Giorgione and not by Titian, his student, as B.B. believes. The difference means a great deal of money in the sale. Michael Rudman directs this intriguing confrontation between these two powerful men who are both convinced of their stance.

Alexander Dodge’s inviting set is a lovely meeting place for the interaction, as the specter of World War II looms, while the original music by John Gromada sets the mood.

For tickets ($40-70), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.


Watch how these two lions roar and circle each other as they protect their own territories and strive to win the coveted spot at the top of the mountain.

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