Friday, October 26, 2012

Vincent by Leonard Nimoy

Jean-Michel Richaud - photo by Yana Gorskaya

By Joe Straw

“My dear Theo,” – Vincent van Gogh

In the past, I shuttered as I drove passed the theatre.  It had a dark name. Without saying the name, I can only verbally demonstrate:  submerge a dahlia into black ink.  

I had seen photographs of the crime scene, black and white, so dark and repugnant. I cowered when I drove by, something always felt ominous.  With a quick glance, I saw the name, and felt, time decelerated.  It was a section of Los Angeles that, for just one block, and for one moment, turned back to the era of black and white 1947 storefronts of Pico Boulevard.  

But it is the now the VS Theatre.  It is wonderful space, full of delicious life, and a colorful thirty-seat black box theatre.  The seats have a lot of character.  They are old with wooden backs.  Fragments of the wood are chipped off in some places but the seats are remarkably comfortable, the theatre is cool, the setting is delightful—all more than one can expect.  

The Next Arena and Mistral Productions presents Vincent by Leonard Nimoy and directed by Paul Stein.  Vincent is a night of dark moods, which are released by a symphony of captivating colors showering the audience in a dazzling display of words and colorful projections. In short, it is a splendid production.  

This is the story of the troubled and fascinating life of Vincent van Gogh as told by his surviving brother, Theo (Jean-Michael Richaud).   

On this particular night, Leonard Nimoy sat behind me.  So close in this intimate theatre, I could hear him breath and clearing his throat from time to time.  It is rare when a writer of a play, takes the time to enjoy and take notice of the yellow and blue moments in another actor’s enactment of the work that he himself performed over a hundred times.     

As the play begins, Theo van Gogh enters through the vomitory with suitcase in tow.  His back is to the audience, not even providing a glimpse of his recent hurt, the pain that must accompany a heartbroken man at the loss his sibling.  Theo ignores us (the mourners) for a moment while he gathers his thoughts.  

Theo, suffering from the weight of life, waits. He hesitates to begin, and struggles to find the words.  Theo’s back is slightly bent from the encumbrance of a small suitcase. Gingerly, he places the suitcase on the table. Slowly, he turns to the mourners, and explains why he did not speak at his brother’s funeral.

Theo tells us he buried Vincent last week. He had lots to say then but could not muster the courage. But now he wants to turn on the lights and open the doors to Vincent’s tormented life and enlighten you, of this aphotic life.  With that thought, he opens the suitcase that contains the multihued letters of Vincent van Gogh collected over a span of many years complete with drawings.

"A meadow full of very yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants with green leaves, with purple flowers, the town in the background, some grey willow trees — a strip of blue sky...” – Quote from Vincent’s letter to Theo.  

The passing of an artist must not go unnoticed particularly when there are numerous oil painting left unsold. Theo suggests Vincent’s life, the good and the bad, must be celebrated if only to show how his suffering led to the magnificent colorful works of art.  These letters, tucked away, are the letters Theo uses to detail the story of Vincent’s passionate life.

“Vincent was a lover of God, love, and art.” - Theo

Vincent told Theo, he failed at all three.  And in order to understand his art, Theo tells us it is important to know about Vincent’s God, his loves, and his art.     

Starting with the love of God Theo lets us know that Vincent was a minister for 13 years.  He was an evangelist in a mining town and brought the word of God to the unfortunate miners. It was during this time Vincent started drawing the miners, watching the eyes of the men wasting away, coming home from the black and white caverns of the earth, lungs blackened with soot, coughing so hard, that sleep was impossible.

(Life begins at the creation of a thought and it is not a mystery where Vincent’s images came from.  They came from the poor and disillusioned.  Oddly enough, looking at the eyes of Vincent’s subjects one can see a hunger, a detachment to life, an odd stare, a bewilderment, and a supreme insight to the struggles of life, all in the stare of his subjects.)

Vincent was hopelessly in love with the wrong women, hoping that he could save them.  He fell in love with his cousin and proposed marriage, and later was seen in company with an alcoholic prostitute. These relationships didn’t last. Theo was hesitant about sending money, and their family was becoming impatient with his way of life.

Theo covered a lot of ground in Vincent’s short and tragic life.  Leonard Nimoy, through the use of a chronological narrative in his play, wants to tell us, to convince us, these brilliant pieces of art are not the work of a madman, but a man who was plagued by a disease. It’s all there in the letters, the work, and in Vincent’s passionate desire to get the work done. After seeing the play, I wanted to run home immediately, get on my computer, and learn a lot more about his troubled life.  Life could not be much richer than this.

Jean-Michel Richaud - photo by Yana Gorskaya

Jean-Michael Richaud as Theo had opening night jitters, which was noticeable at times. More could have been made of the colors that come and go, the opening of the suitcase, and his depression that drags him down only to be brought up from the colors of Vincent’s painting. That aside, Richaud had an incredible emotional attachment to his character. He submitted to the moment, letting go of the hard work and melting into the character’s emotional life with a graceful execution.  And with eyelids reddened by the demonstrative weight the final moments, Richaud’s performance was nearly on the brink of ecstasy.  It was a night to absorb.

There is a lot to be said of Paul Stein’s directions. It is finely tuned with words and projection.  And with the weight of the moment submerging Theo into the depths of depression we fly to the projections upstage right that takes us out of the dark moments and lifts us into the stratosphere with Vincent’s color and life. Some moments missed their mark and I think color should play an important part with the progression of the play. The suitcase plays an important part.  Lights should pour from the suitcase the moment it is opened. The play is about color and a man severely depressed because of the loss of his brother.  Also, Theo, ill with syphilis, died six months after Vincent died.  This is not part of Nimoy’s play but could be incorporated as part of a character’s choice, somehow, somewhere.   

I felt right at home at the VS Theatre.  The crew also credited in this marvelous production are as follows:

Tommy Dunn – Stage Manager
Steve Pope – Lighting Design
Nora Feldman – Publicist
Scott Rognlien – TNA Artistic Director

“I’ve been a failure at so many things in my lifetime. I hope I haven’t failed at this as well.” – Vincent

Run to see this production.  Take someone who loves colorful juicy gossip about artists who have passed but remain with us in their work.

Extended through December 16, 2012!

Or: 323-417-2170

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