Galactia glories in her own self-contradictions: Even as she maligns and provokes Carpeta, she is obsessed with getting him to leave his wife. She has taught two of her daughters (Raquel Cion and Nina Gold) to paint, but refuses them affection. She rails against the establishment as represented by the doge, his admiral brother (John Flanagan), and the Catholic cardinal (Flanagan again), in the (correct) certainty that they will prevent her wildly controversial canvas from being displayed. When that decision is reversed and the painting acknowledged as a masterpiece, her disappointment at being deprived of a battle and of enemies ruins her.
It's all very provocative and mostly exciting. But what's missing is humanity and genuine sexuality. There's cleverness everywhere: A screen and video camera supply an instant second angle on the second-act proceedings. Scenes came into being as a radio play; necessary expository narration, supplied originally as notes from Galactia's sketchbook, have metamorphosed into a slinky black-sheathed character called Sketchbook (Sommer Ulrickson). One of Watt's intriguing choices is to have Galactia interact with Sketchbook as if they were lovers, which, in effect, they are.
As Galactia Silver is more shrill than seductive, more pedantic than iconoclastic. She seems overwhelmed by the ideas her character continually reels off, and she fails to provide the sort of fire Barker clearly wants for his heroine. Her scenes with Costigan as Carpeta show us an indifferent Galactia, not a woman at the height of her sexuality. Her scenes with the doge should crackle with erotic provocation; here they are simply a way of forwarding the story.
As Galactia's lover, Costigan seems more a victim of ill use (it is his bare bottom she is sketching at curtain's rise) than a man in love. His complaints border on whining and his manner is sulky. Perhaps it's the actor's frustration at the lack of chemistry between himself and his leading lady.
Winer's Doge Urgentino makes the most powerful and lasting impression, with his Hollywood deal-maker manner. He so outweighs Galactia as an opponent that the contest is over before it begins, and all Watt and the rest of the company can do is try to distract us with their inventiveness. That they come so close to success makes the eventual lack of success -- it's not really failure -- all the more disappointing.