Thursday, August 17, 2017

Van Gogh's Ear

Waiting for Van Gogh's Ear to start is a pleasure, since it gives you time to really examine Vanessa Jame's open and elegant set. It's all black and white, with dramatic strips of wide glistening material stretching down walls and across the floor. The upstage center area, arranged for musicians, is dominated by a striking white grand piano. Stage left features a small room, a pared-down version of Van Gogh's famous bedroom.

The Bedroom by Vincent Van Gogh

Soon the show starts, and the black-and-white set swirls with color as the white bands become screens for stunning projections (David Bengali) that envelope the audience in Van Gogh's gorgeous brush strokes.

Chad Johnson, Carter Hudson
Photo: Shirin Tinati

But Van Gogh's Ear is interested in more than showing Van Gogh's world; it also wants us to hear it. For the synesthetic Van Gogh, musical notes were colors, and he perceived painting as parallel to composing. Van Gogh's Ear includes live music by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson and César Franck, beautifully played and sung by Henry Wang (violin), Yuval Herz (violin), Chieh-Fan Yiu (viola), Timotheos Petrin (cello), Max Barros (piano), Renana Gutman (piano), Renée Tatum (soprano), and Chad Johnson (tenor). Van Gogh's dialogue is culled from his letters, which brings yet another dimension to the show.

Van Gogh's Ear is one of the most thoughtful and elegant shows I have ever seen, and I really, really, really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, the show is boring.

I see two chief culprits. First, the direction (Donald T. Sanders) features painfully slow pacing that aims for meditative but achieves dull. Second, lead actor Carter Hudson makes the reasonable actorly decision to present the words of Van Gogh's letters as if Van Gogh were thinking them that second, but his pauses become maddening. (He reminded me of one of those pitchers who has to ponder and scratch and juggle the resin bag and think some more before pitching, until all you can think is "Throw the damn ball.") Hudson also lacks the intense spark of the insane genius. (Where is Mandy Patinkin when you need him?)

However, if you are really into Van Gogh and Debussy, Fauré, Chausson, and Franck, and if you're okay with ponderous pacing, you might want to completely ignore this review. There's a lot of talent and beauty here.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket, 5th row)

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