Review: Passionately painted portrait of ‘Vincent’

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

NEW YORK NY - Vincent Van Gogh nowadays is a widely known and beloved artist, his vibrant, dynamic paintings can be found in some major art museums around the world, however during his life he only sold one painting and was misunderstood by critics and contemporaries likewise. One of the few people who truly believed in Van Gogh’s talent was his brother, Theo Van Gogh. He supported his artist brother financially throughout his life and constantly encouraged him.        

In his director’s address to the audience Dr. Briant Pope draws parallel between Theo Van Gogh and St. Paul. The same way Jesus is presented in the Christianity through the eyes of the disciple, Vincent is presented through the eyes of his brother. This remark seams especially appropriate since the production takes place in St. Clement’s church.

To Theo Vincent was not only a beloved little brother and best friend. Being an art dealer he recognized the talent of the artist very early on and preached the significance of Vincent Van Gogh’s work to the art world and humanity. He carefully preserved over 500 letters that Vincent wrote to him throughout 10 years, these letters are the main biographical source of the artist’s life. 

 Photo: Starry Night Theatre

Photo: Starry Night Theatre

The one-man show Vincent written by Leonard Nimoy is based on those letters and was originally performed by the actor himself.  In production of Starry Night Theater Company, James Briggs, the artistic director and the founder of the company, plays the part of Theo. Directed by Dr. Briant Pope, Briggs brings to life Vincent Van Gogh seen through the eyes of his brother and ally. 

From the early scathes made in the coalmines in Belgium’s Borinage to the iconic paintings of the last dramatic years, Briggs guides us through the artist’s biography accompanied by the projections of Van Gogh’s works. Vincent has a great educational value and is undoubtedly one of the most engaging art lesson you will ever receive. On top of that, it is a very emotionally charged and intimate theater experience. 

James Briggs as Theo emanates (источает) unconditional brotherly love full of bitter disappointments, irony, and forgiveness. As much as we commiserate with Vincent, we also fell for Theo, as the pain from his resent loss wets his eyes and makes his voice braking. Sometimes Brigs takes on a role of Vincent, or should I say Theo does. You can hear quite a bit of irony in those impersonations and imagine brothers poking elbows in a playful boyish manner. Sometimes though Theo almost becomes Vincent, witch evokes an uncanny feeling of him becoming a shadow of his famous brother, dissolving in his words completely. 

Some of the letters’ fragments are voiced not by Theo but by the recording of presumably Vincent. The choice of using voiceover is not always clear and quite frankly doesn’t have the same grasping effect as when Theo reads them even taking into account the dramatic set up, complete darkness of the theater with only blown up painting glowing. To follow personal memories of Theo loaded with pain and struggle and joy is much more interesting. 

The lighting design by Scott Pinkney is surprisingly dynamic yet nonintrusive. With limited means he manages to paint with light, highlighting the emotions of the performer and making the scenic design (by James Briggs) at times cozy at times haunting. 

Vincent is running through June 5th in Theatre at St. Clement’s at 423 West 46th Street (9th Avenue), New York, NY. More information about the production and tickets here: