Review: VINCENT by Leonard Nimoy Staged Featuring Acclaimed French Actor, Jean-Michel Richaud
I have always been a great fan of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, so much so that I have traveled to the French countryside around the city of Arles to visit several locations featured in his paintings. While driving through the fields on a rainy afternoon, it was easy to imagine the famed painter sitting with his easel, frantically painting while the light was still good. While Van Gogh's critics labeled his work "madness," it has gone on to become some of the most popular in French Impressionism. But the great artist's story is so much more than that of the misunderstood artist who cut off his own ear.
VINCENT, written by Leonard Nimoy after years of researching the artist's work, was recently presented as a one-night event by Theatre Raymond Kabbaz (TRK), directed by Paul Stein at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90064, featuring acclaimed French actor Jean-Michel Richaud, recognized as one of the top European voice over talents in Los Angeles who has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including "What Just Happened" with Robert De Niro and "Bottle Shock" opposite Alan Rickman.
Inspired by the one-man piece Phillip Stevens' Van Gogh, VINCENT paints a thoughtful, imaginary scenario about one of the most famous names in the art world, using excerpts and reminiscences from more than 500 letters exchanged between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo. You will definitely walk out of the theater knowing more about the dedicated artist and devotee of the common man, a cause he championed during his entire life while often living in the worst of conditions with the poorest of the poor.
The play begins as Theo enters through the audience, well-dressed for the time period but carrying a battered small suitcase. Of course, we find out its contents include the famous letters between the brothers that he has been saving for years and now wants to share. Vincent died at age 37 a few days prior, and rumors about him are running rampant in Paris. Some say he was a penniless madman, a frequenter of prostitutes and soon to be forgotten artist of trifling quality. Others denounce him as a wayward priest and a foreigner. Many whisper he took his own life in a moment of insanity. Even his artist-friend Paul Gauguin called Van Gogh "certifiably crazy." His brother Theo, Vincent's confidante and lifelong supporter, is enraged and hopes the sharing of their letters will set the record straight. It's an enchanting tale of the need for artistic freedom as well as brotherly devotion and love, no matter the circumstances.
Richaud portrays both Theo and Vincent when reading their individual letters, brilliantly changing his posture, mannerisms, and overall appearance to easily let the audience see the major emotional differences between the two brothers. As time goes on, Vincent becomes more and more unstable while Theo continues to support Vincent financially and emotionally, and is soon becomes apparent that without Theo, Vincent wouldn't have been able to develop into the artist we now admire.
Throughout the play, more than a hundred of Van Gogh's paintings are projected on a screen, providing a rich overview of the artist's work and a visual complement to the unfolding story. The montage displayed at the end of the play allowed the audience to experience many images described in Vincent's letters to Theo, making it all the more meaningful after listening to the artist's own description of what each painting meant to him. The images he created, though only one sold in his lifetime, still continue to pervade our culture.
The 75-minute performance in English was performed without an intermission by Richaud, who kept the rapt attention of audience members throughout the play thanks to his in-depth characterization of both brothers. It was easy to imagine we were guests in Theo's home as he sorted through the letters and shared not on the contents but provided great insight into the troubled mind and soul of a great artist and his ever-supportive and loving brother.
VINCENT was presented at Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz, the innovative performance space at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90064 (310-286-0553), on November 9, 2017. Tickets ran $25 for adults and $15 for students, available online http://tinyurl.com/ofmdyxh. Hopefully more performances will be scheduled soon!
• Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz event page - http://www.theatreraymondkabbaz.com/2017/04/17/vincent/
•TRK on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/TheatreRaymondKabbaz/events/
• Vincent, The Play Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/VincentThePlay/
• Jean-Michel Richaud website - http://www.jmrichaud.com/