BWW Reviews: Starry Night Theater's VINCENT Paints Captivating Portrait of the Artist
Vase with Twelve Sunflowers. Wheatfield with Crows. The Starry Night. These simply-worded titles are immediately recognizable as some of the masterworks of Vincent van Gogh. While van Gogh's celebrated paintings grace museum walls (and are familiarly commoditized on magnets and t-shirts), the man behind the brushstrokes too often remains a mystery. The more sensational moments of the artist's final years - the self-mutilation of his ear; his tragic suicide - are commonly known, but a look beyond the surface facts proves van Gogh's life experiences were just as rich and complex as the artworks he created.
Starry Night Theater Company's Vincent, under the direction of Brant Pope, explores these complexities to create a fully-realized portrait of the artist using van Gogh's own words. This one-man, one-act play was written and originally performed by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy crafted his script from the letters van Gogh exchanged with his brother, Theo, an insightful approach that gives this work authenticity, depth, and true poignancy. Vincent is a memorable and moving production that will, without a doubt, kindle theatergoers' interest in van Gogh, the man, and inspire a fresh, new appreciation of his artistic works.
James Briggs founded Starry Night in 2012, and he stars as Theo in the touring production of Vincent. The play is set one week after van Gogh's death, as Theo offers the audience an impassioned eulogy for his brother. Theo struggles to come to terms with his loss; grief overwhelmed his words during Vincent's funeral, and only now can he give voice to the remembrances in his heart. He is determined the world should know Vincent candidly, his great genius and his misguided passions, both the sublime and the unlovely.
Theo's memories are the heart and soul of this production and Briggs is masterful in the role. He is a thoroughly-engaging, eloquent narrator, bringing great warmth, genuineness of feeling, and utter conviction to every aspect of his performance. Briggs captures Theo's still-anguished emotions and state of mind exactly as they would be so near to Vincent's death. Though the sadness, anger, and guilt of Theo's loss weigh on him, Briggs tempers these with lighter moments, recalling Vincent's exploits with a believable blend of fond tenderness and brotherly exasperation.
Several scenes allow Briggs to speak directly in Vincent's voice, and there, a subtle shift in his demeanor - particularly in his eyes and posture - signals a wordless, seamless transition between the two brothers. Briggs' presentation is well-paced, and he maintains flawless characterization and engagement for the entire 85-minute production.
Vincent's excellent qualities also extend through to its stagecraft; the play's props and sets (by Briggs), as well as its costume design (Barbara Pope), are elegantly executed and enhance the narrative. The feature piece of staging, a large-scale projection screen set in a simple wooden frame, beautifully compliments the script and the nineteenth-century setting by unobtrusively displaying pages of the brothers' correspondence, photographs of the van Gogh family, and, of course, Vincent's sketches and oil paintings. Elegant lighting work by Tracy Lynn Wertheimer also contributes to the storytelling, signaling shifts in tone, character, and focus.
Performances of Vincent play AS220's 95 Empire Theater through Sunday, January 25, 2015. General admission tickets cost $24; discounted student/senior tickets are available for $20. Brown and RISD students receive free admission with a valid ID. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.starrynighttheater.com or call (413) 344-0240.
Photo courtesy Starry Night Theater Company