BWW Reviews: VINCENT IN BRIXTON from Actors Bridge Ensemble

Passionate and provocative, Nicholas Wright's Vincent in Brixton, "a play about the early life of Vincent Van Gogh," is brought to vivid life through the extraordinarily rich performances of Brent Maddox and Kim Bretton in the Actors Bridge Ensemble's production now onstage at Belmont University's Black Box Theatre.

Under the strong and capable direction of Actors Bridge's founding artistic director Bill Feehely, the play tells of young Vincent's sojourn in London, considering how his love affair with a woman more than twice his age - the woman who inspired him to follow his heart and his dreams even while she watched hers wither on the vine - completely changed his life's direction, resulting in the legendary artistry for which he is best known.

One of this season's most beautifully acted productions, Vincent in Brixton is moving and emotional, funny and evocative. Thanks to Feehely's wealth of experience and his discerning eye, it is a lively affair, completely engaging the audience in the tale being told onstage. By turns immensely entertaining and thoroughly inspiring, Vincent in Brixton is also heart-wrenching in its candor and honesty and the multi-layered performances of Feehely's talented cast only gives the play deeper meaning and resonance.

The play's consideration of how an artist can be inspired - his true talents tested and brought to fruition - is compelling and inspiring in its own way. Watching young Vincent's story brought to life cannot help but make you think long after you leave the theatre and, when placed in the proper historical context of the story of Van Gogh's troubled later life, you are likely to have a far more visceral reaction than you might have expected initally.

Set in the London suburb of Brixton, the play focuses on young 22-year-old Vincent's brief stay in Britain working for a Dutch-based art firm, learning the art of sales while sublimating his own artistic tendencies and his unbridled - and unedited - views of life and love. Brought by serendipity to the home of Ursula Loyer, inquiring about the possibility of renting a room there, the rather abrupt young Dutchman finally meets his match in the older and wiser woman, leading to a stunning denouement of ultimately devastating effects.

The sexual tension between Vincent and Mrs. Loyer is fairly palpable, thanks to the exquisite pairing of Brent Maddox and Kim Bretton as Wright's leading characters. Maddox's performance is beautifully nuanced and perfectly modulated: His Vincent can be fiery and passionate at one moment, studied and introspective in the next as he creates a character who is believable and whole, never once relying on the obvious or theatrical to breathe life into the script-bound man.

Bretton's revelatory reading of Mrs. Loyer is something every younger actress in Nashville should study and appreciate - and commit to memory. Bretton artfully and creatively becomes her character, showing the range of her craft while demonstrating Mrs. Loyer's own stunning emotional arc. As Bretton gracefully acts her way through the script (although calling this acting seems inconsequential so completely does she embody Mrs. Loyer), she transforms herself and her audience. Clearly, Maddox and Bretton's performances are not to be missed.

They are given ample support by their other castmates, including the confident Jessika Malone as Eugenie Loyer, Mrs. Loyer's outspoken and direct daughter; Mitch Massaro, charming as Sam Plowman, Mrs. Loyer's other lodger and Eugenie's lover; and Colleen Allen, compellingly off-putting as Vincent's younger, puritanical sister Anna, whose brashness sets in motion Act Two's dramatic conclusion.

The play's setting, the kitchen of Mrs. Loyer's Brixton house, is expertly designed by Paul Gatrell, chair of Belmont's theatre department, who deserves praise for his detail-oriented aesthetic vision that provides the perfect backdrop for the play's action. That action is underscored by Aaron Braun's wonderfully executed lighting design that helps capture the tone and spirit of Wright's well-written play. The production's aesthetic is further exemplified by the artful costume designs of Kate Foreman and the props, which are designed by Mary Cullen Pennington, Erin Randolph, Kristin McCalley and Foreman.

- Vincent in Brixton. By Nicholas Wright. Directed by Bill Feehely. Presented by Actors Bridge Ensemble at Belmont University's Black Box Theatre, Nashville. Through May 23. For further details, visit the company website at www.actorsbridge.org or call (615) 341-0300.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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