BWW Review: World Premier of VAN GOGH & ME at The Rose Theater--An Original Work of Art
VAN GOGH & ME gives new meaning to the words "performing arts." This is art leaping to life on stage at the hands of playwright Matthew Gutshick and director John Hardy.
Based on true accounts of the last months of Vincent van Gogh's life, VAN GOGH & ME pictures how the Dutch post-impressionist painter may have appeared through the eyes of a child. Afflicted with mental illness, van Gogh, tragically ended his life at age 37. He was never able to climb out of poverty or find appreciation for his artistry during his lifetime.
Young Adeline Ravoux (Anna Jordan) yearns to make friends in her new home in Auberge-Sur-Oise where her family moved in a desperate attempt to improve baby Germaine's health. Her parents, Louise (Stephanie Jacobson) and Arthur Ravoux (Nils Haaland), run a struggling café and inn.
As Adeline helps her parents prepare a breakfast of croissants for their only guest, a smug painter Martinez de Valdivielse (Tyrone Beasley), two rowdy children playing cowboy race in. The children, Rene Secretan (Robby Stone) and Cecile Demey (Mallory Freilich), tease her about the crazy artist who is rumored to be checking in at the inn. While Adeline is distracted, they make off with the croissants.
As punishment for losing the croissants, Adeline is sent to tidy up the guest room. There she meets Vincent van Gogh (Ezra Colo'n), noticing that he has a bandage around his head. He scares her with his gruff language and she runs off to find the children. When she joins with their pranks on van Gogh, her bad behavior is met with forgiveness by the odd artist who feels everyone deserves a second chance.
Now she is in a quandary: who are her new friends? Rene and Cecile? Or van Gogh?
There are so many things to love about this play!
Magnificent set. Changing colors, lights and images suggestive of Van Gogh's paintings captivate. The set is textured and surreal. Colo'n as van Gogh explains his painting style as representing the colors of feelings and memories. For example, the sun may be the color of your mother's hair or loneliness. Art should be what is inside the mind and heart with fingerprints of light. Colors complement each other side by side but are ugly gray when mixed. Both Craig S. Moxon, designer of lighting and sound, and Jeff Stander, scenic designer, did a brilliant job capturing van Gogh's style. My eyes feasted on the swirls of the Starry Night piece and the portrait images of Adeline and Van Gogh. The clouds alone demanded my attention throughout the production.
Solid acting. The cast has impressive credentials and it shows. Nils Haaland is believable as the stressed-out father, Arthur Ravoux. Stephanie Jacobson elicits compassion as his wife who is trying to cope with a sick baby and an uncertain livelihood. Ezra Colo'n is crazy good as van Gogh. Tyrone Beasley enacts the artist Martinez with just enough arrogance. The children, Cecile and Rene, played by Mallory Freilich and Robby Stone respectively, are loud, brash kids that infuse the story with humor while demonstrating that even children can be judgmental and cruel. Anna Jordan is a particularly sweet presence as the heroine Adeline.
Experienced director. Guest director John Hardy's 30 years in the business as playwright, actor, and director ensure that the production virtually flawless.
Inspired script. Rose Theater Artistic Director Matthew Gutshick infuses his story with heart, taking biographical details and fleshing them out with human emotion. He explained why he chose van Gogh as the subject of his play.
"Vincent created works of art that reflect a gentle, often spiritually vibrant way of looking at the world, but he was poorly treated by many people and was hardly acknowledged by the art world. Yet, he still continued to create. That perseverance strikes me as reflective of a deeper truth that Vincent understood."
He went on to say that the message he hoped to share was one of acceptance. "I wanted to create a play that would view him through the eyes of a child, unjaded by the prejudices and disappointments associated with adulthood. I think Vincent's art resists that darkness, and I think childhood resists it as well."
"The best part," Gutshick continued, "is that we can choose to find the goodness. We each have that power. It is borne of our empathy and our ability to acknowledge our fundamental humanity."
Although VAN GOGH & ME has concluded its run at the Rose, I feel confident that we haven't seen the last of it. Theaters all over the country will be inspired once they discover the goodness that is VAN GOGH & ME. It is art that will live on.
Photo credit: Alex Myhre