By Marcina Zaccaria
Carefully uncovering the world of van Gogh, Starry Night Theater Company presents Vincent at Theatre at St. Clement’s.
The play, originally written and performed by Leonard Nimoy, is a one person show. It is based on the life of Vincent van Gogh, told through the perspective of his brother, Theo van Gogh. Actor James Briggs has a thoughtful command of the material, as he portrays the responsible brother to the erratic artist.
Briggs (who also provided the Scenic Design and Sound Design) is attentive to detail. The stage space, set apart with light-colored and reddish-brown floor boards, creates a warm, theatrical setting. Period costumes by Barbara Pope bring us into the 1890s. With straw hat and brown clothes, Briggs as Theo reads letter after letter. For post-Impressionist scholars, there are no great surprises here; he is the Theo that we have heard about before.
In monologue after monologue, we hear Vincent’s trying story, including his skepticism of miners, his financial troubles, and finally, his demise into an institution after cutting off his ear. A prolific painter, Vincent’s psychological troubles persisted throughout his life. His paintings, shown in digital images on a framed screen, are both a document and an interpretation. Vincent’s sorrow, so unmistakable to his brother, Theo, is perceived at a distance, as directed by Dr. Brant Pope. Pope chooses to keep the performance quite even, and takes time to elucidate the points of the painter’s life succinctly and without great fervor.
Pope also relies on Vincent’s paintings to guide the storytelling. This is the best part of the show. So many people know the story of van Gogh, but the sheer number of images utilized in this production is impressive. The production calls for images from the mining town to van Gogh’s life in Paris with Paul Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. The famous Starry Night is also used to bring the life of Vincent van Gogh to the stage. Lighting Design by Scott Pinkney echoes the blues, oranges, and yellows in the original paintings. Theo stands at a distance.
Throughout the play, we hear how van Gogh interprets death and the afterlife. Nimoy’s script, based on the play Van Gogh by Phillip Stephens, notes van Gogh’s sentiments on love. Vincent considers himself a “lover of God, a lover of love, and a lover of art.” It is all interpreted in an 1890s context. Though Theo winds up only for a moment under a large cross at Theatre at St. Clement’s, there is a sense of reaching towards God, punctuated with brilliance. Vincent’s goodness – and his fear – is seen.
Vincent will be running at St. Clement’s Church, located at 423 W 46th Street, until June 5. Tickets (866) 811-4111 or online at www.starrynighttheater.com