Written by Leonard Nimoy
Directed by Dr. Brant Pope
Stage Door Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts
April 2 – 12
It seems hardly possible that Vincent van Gogh was only 37 when he died. He painted for just the last decade of his short life, creating all that beauty amid the squalor and travails of a tumultuous life. Vincent, written by Leonard Nimoy, is based on an earlier work by Phillip Stevens, entitled Van Gogh. Mr. Nimoy found out about this previous work from an actor who was reading the letters between Vincent and his brother aloud to college students. Inspired by that, and himself a noted art photographer, Mr. Nimoy developed this one-man show. In it, Vincent’s story is told by his brother, Theo. Mr. Nimoy originated the role, which is now played by the very fine James Briggs.
Produced by Starry Night Theater the play opens just after Vincent’s death. His brother, having been overcome with grief and unable to speak at the funeral, gathers a group of Vincent’s friends and colleagues, and dedicates himself to clarifying his brother’s legacy. As his biggest supporter, both emotionally and financially, Theo’s insights provide the audience with a point of view that emphasizes not the artist’s vagaries but his passions. Mr. Briggs plays Theo with élan. His manner and style inform us that Vincent was born into comfortable and somewhat refined circumstances, and the vigor with which Theo determines to illuminate his brother’s motivations and achievements describes his own confidence in Vincent’s genius. Mr. Briggs sometimes portrays Vincent, but it feels more like Theo’s recollection of Vincent, as one might have recalling vivid incidents from one’s past.
A major feature of this production is the work of the artist, projected upstage during the entire performance. Over one hundred large high-definition images are used. Sometimes the art provides a visual marker for the point in the story, as when Theo describes Vincent’s mercurial stay in Arles with Paul Gaugin, or his period of relative respite at Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (since renamed the Clinique Van Gogh). It was while living at Saint-Rémy that Vincent painted some of his most well-know works, including The Starry Night. These images also set a mood, visually punctuating the story of Vincent’s zealous desire to live a meaningful life, as in his work he explores the beauty of nature and the sometimes painful human condition.
Scenic and sound design, by James Briggs, are understated, as is the lighting design by Tracy Lynn Wertheimer. This is as it should be, so as not to compete with the art and the action. There is just enough there to suggest an artist’s studio and a bourgeois home, made real by nuanced acting and subtle changes in the visual tone.
The play is a marvelous combination of theatre and visual art, and Theo’s attempt to ennoble his brother’s lifelong struggle succeeds because the art does ultimately speak for itself. The artist triumphs in death, having finally begun to achieve the acknowledgement of his singular talent for celebrating the wonder of contour and color on a canvas.
Vincent runs through April 12 at Stage Door Theater.