The way playwright Don Druick sees it, 17th-century sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini was in his time as renowned as Pablo Picasso and Steven Spielberg. Combined.Arguably the greatest sculptor/architect of his period, Bernini is one of the two main forces in Through The Eyes, Druick's 1995 play revived by Factory Theatre and director Brian Quirt.
He knew wealth and critical acclaim for his work in Rome, but fell out with the new pope and in 1665, when in his 60s, accepted Louis XIV's invitation to come to Paris. Louis, never one to stint on creating monuments to his own glory -- think Versailles -- is the play's other demanding, inflexible power.
Druick's fascinating dramatic aperture, though, shows us the two men through description and dialogue provided by an unnamed courtier, a man who speaks enough Italian to be Bernini's assistant as the sculptor works on a marble bust of the king -- a bust that's now at Versailles.
"I see the courtier as a witness who's changed by what he witnesses," explains Druick from his home in Elmira. "He's a middle-aged man who's grown desperate when he realizes that his life's ambitions haven't come to pass at court. Several decades in that environment have made him insensitive, cruel and less himself -- like what Hollywood did to William Faulkner.
"The courtier gives the play a human scale. Otherwise, you'd have a mad play about someone as rich and powerful as Bill Gates -- but without the sweaters. Louis had more style."
Druick has put a lot of thought into the triangular relationship involving artist, audience and patron. His Chalmers-winning play Where Is Kabuki? dealt in part with the relative importance of box office, backer's money and artistic creativity in 19th-century Japan.
"Artists make fascinating people and characters. They're both self-possessed and obsessive," he laughs.
"And they're periodically elevated during various golden ages, when a particular person in power suddenly values the arts for some reason, usually political.
"The artist, in fact, can only exist with patronage or matronage. The very nature of what an artist does precludes commercial potential. Successful artists create either for a mass audience or for those in power; the less successful ones are left out of history books. These days, unfortunately, we're into commodity and profitability, not art."
The gauge of success was different for Bernini, but his challenge at Louis's court wasn't only artistic. Intrigues, jealousies and power struggles created an unstable environment for all but the king himself.
Druick's skill is to create -- with only one actor, here the talented Richard McMillan -- dozens of people, all seen from the viewpoint of the courtier. The result is a series of miniature scenes crackling with emotion and politics, created with tiny, subtle brush strokes.
It's not by chance that Druick used to work as a jazz flutist and has now, for his own pleasure, returned to his first passion, the wooden baroque flute. Music and a sense of rhythm infuse his work.
"It's ironic that I'm writing a play about a man who worked in marble. What you create in bronze and marble is the opposite of ephemeral theatre, where a production can be forgotten the minute it's done.
"But that's what I love about theatre, where the focus isn't on the product but, rather, the artist. I may be the primary creator who produces material for them, but it's the actors who give it life. They are shamans, to be respected always." firstname.lastname@example.org
THROUGH THE EYES by Don Druick, directed by Brian Quirt, with Richard McMillan. Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Previews begin Friday (January 10), opens January 16 and runs to February 9, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm (except January 12 at 7 pm). $18-$25, Sunday pwyc-$18, previews $10. 416-504-9971.