Sunday, June 12, 2016

Vincent Deconstructed (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

DisclaimerI am a member of the Actaeon Players and even designed the post card for this production.  However, I took no direct part in the rehearsal, writing or direction of this play.

Vincent van Gogh remains (and hopefully shall for generations to come) one of the most famous artists in this planet's history.  Anyone seeing his works can understand why, but there's another reason--a tragic struggle with mental illness which finally cost his life. This fact too often overshadows any thought of the real man, the loving and passionate human being as opposed to the icon of insane genius.

Vincent Deconstructed, written and directed by my friend Elissa Anne Polansky, focuses on the man rather than the madman.  The man (Alex Walters) who loved others, most especially his wonderful Agostina (Tara McGrath) and was capable of making good friends like Giancarlo (Graydon Schlichter).

Despite the warning atop this, I'm reluctant to give away a great deal of what happens in the actual play.  Most simply, it opens with Vincent in the asylum, unhappy and desperate, who seemingly has a dream.  But is it?  In the end, he decides to try leaving this life behind him, to begin anew.

Credit: Sebastian Munoz
So we get to see in this play exactly what the author wanted us to understand--the human being rather than the icon. It isn't always pretty, but more than once I found it heart-rending.  Vincent tries to reconnect with the woman he most loved in life.  Agostina, whom he drove away but who still loves him.  Like Vincent himself, she remains someone divided--although in her case between heart and mind.

A word here about the cast.  First Walters really gives an amazing vision of this man we all think we know in some way.  Perhaps it is because we so often imagine him as railing or foaming at the mouth.  But of course he could not have done that all the time.  Nor does this play focus on such.  Here we see Vincent van Gogh of all people smiling,  we see him listening, but not painting.  Rather, he tries to foster that part of himself--which was always there--that reached out to others, the awkward but utterly sincere efforts of a lonely, brilliant soul.

Credit: Sebastian Munoz
McGrath has a subtler job still, because the danger of Vincent eclipsing Agostina remains vivid.  Yet we also need to see why he loves her, more why she would love him and believe in  her courage to given this man another chance.  To be sure, the script allows lots of (suble) opportunity to accomplish this but the point remains McGrath uses them.

Likewise Todd Andrew Ball really does wonders with his tiny but important role as Vidal, a dockworker whom Vincent seeks to befriend or at least help.  I don't want to reveal how that goes, but whereas their pivotal scenes could have ended up as formulaic, instead we got truth.

The fact this remained the pattern throughout indicates no accident, but some wise choices on the part of playwright/director Polansky.  One of these remains the use of van Gogh's paintings themselves--projected upon the stage wall with an ever-growing impact.

In the end, I wept.  More than once.  Because Vincent's pain echoed into my own, reverberating until it rang in my bones.  The icon vanished, the flesh and soul remained, along with the art they created.  Oh how I longed at the very end to hug this sad, wonderful man--and one reason for my tears was that remained impossible.

Vincent Deconstructed plays at the Sacred Fools Black Box Theatre (former the Elephant) 6322 Santa Monica Blvd (at Lillan, west of Vine) Sunday June 12 2016, 9:30 PM, Thursday June 16 2016, 6:30 PM, Sunday June 19 2016, 12:30 PM, Wednesday June 22 2016, 10:00 PM, Thursday June 23 2016, 5:00 PM, Friday June 24 2016, 5:00 PM and Sunday June 26 2016, 5:00 PM.

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