BWW Review: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at City-Theater
In the late 1800's George Seurat developed pointillism, a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. One of the half-dozen most popular paintings in the world, 'A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte' hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
It depicts 50 people in varying perspectives and proportions reposing in a park outside of Paris. At first blush, it looks like any other work of fine art. But...it is composed of hundreds of thousands of daubs of color (ergo pointillism). The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer's eye to blend colors optically. With this seminal work, Seurat altered the direction of modern art, initiating Neo-Impressionism.
This masterpiece also became the basis for James Lapine to write and Stephen Sondheim to compose SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Opened in 1983, it starred two legends, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.
I offer this rather wordy explanation why? Even a layman can appreciate and understand the beauty of Seurat's art. City-Theater's rendering of the show, however, is like attempting to interpret a Picasso. Co-Directors Tom Shade and Michael Gray so thoroughly deconstructed the play it is simply impossible to follow.
While City-Theater is deservedly renown for cutting edge, this production was over the edge, as in Thelma and Louise.
Why would the actors read their lines from scripts for the first 15 minutes? I know this is not the case, but for the uninitiated in the audience one might have thought the cast never learned their lines and had no other recourse but to use books. This conceit was not inventive, if was off-putting. The actors' noses were stuck in books, eliminating any engagement whatsoever. First impressions went poof...gone with the wind.
A 90-minute first act did not help the cause.
I have seen the show twice in its more fleshed out Broadway-style format with full sets and a rendition of Seurat's masterpiece as backdrop. I get that City-Theater cannot do that nor would they aspire to.
However, Sondheim is a genius. His intellect is dialed to the max in this one with stream of conscious ramblings and fragmentary songs whose ending results in the only complete sentence. Those elements alone make it a difficult show to follow.
The concept staged in CT's black box is a series of non-sequitur scenes with neither flow nor cohesion. To wit: after many of the songs the audience did not know if or when to clap.
An hour in we were subconsciously pleading for an ounce of humor for 'relief'. Finally, Patrick O'Hara and George Tietze came to our rescue with amusing dialogue - even though we had no clue what they were doing within the context of the show. The laughs were awkward, but at least there were laughs.
Jeff Hunsicker's cutout replica of himself in fighter pilot leather and Joe Biden glasses? George spread out on the floor talking to a stuffed animal? Too high concept for the middling mentality of Aisle Say.
George (Brendan Sheehan) and his mistress and model Dot (Jenna Kuerzi) love one another but she wants more. George is 'tranced' out with his work (that phenomenon of losing the world around you while creating art). Dot cannot entice George from his self-imposed cocoon. Art wins out. This is a metaphor for the production. The cocoon that the Directors created would not allow the audience to peer in and be engaged. We never got the 'point'.
Great photos by Joe Del Tufo of Moonloop Photography
Through December 16 City-Theater.org