Dramaworks' 'Pitmen Painters' raises thought-provoking questions
The Depression-era British coal miners in Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters are the least likely candidates to become artists imaginable. They began working in the pits when they were 10 or 11. They've never even seen a painting. But Hall clearly admires them, and by the end of Palm Beach Dramaworks' artfully nuanced production, they not only win our respect, but also our affection. ...The story zeros in on Oliver Kilbourn, the group's most accomplished artist, played with touching humility by Declan Mooney. Oliver is offered a way out of the mines when Helen Sutherland, a rich patroness of the arts (coolly portrayed by Kim Cozort), proposes giving him a stipend. Oliver's ambivalence and eventual regret, coupled with Helen's fading interest, send a stab of pathos through the play that only grows as the story moves toward its deliberately undermined triumphant end. Dennis Creaghan as the punctilious George, Colin McPhillamy as the stolid Jimmy, Rob Donohoe as the dogmatic socialist Harry, Joby Earle as the feisty Young Lad and urbane Ben Nicholson, and Betsy Graver as the unabashed nude model complete the superb cast. Matt Corey's sound design deftly evokes the setting with clanging pit noises and bouncy period tunes. Erin Amico adds color to Michael Amico's stern set by garbing Cozort in fetching fashions. Politics aside, The Pitmen Painters raises thought-provoking questions about the role of art in society, while telling a bittersweet story about a remarkable group of men.