REVIEW: (van) Gogh for ‘Vincent’ at the Falcon

By Doug Iden

In a major tour-de-force, Chad Brinkman portrays younger brother Theo Van Gogh narrating the agonizing yet inspiring story of his older brother Vincent at Falcon Theater, Newport.  

Told in flashback, Theo was so emotional at the death of his brother and best friend that he could not speak at Vincent’s funeral.  In the play, written by Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek’s Mr. Spock) based upon an earlier version by Phillip Stephens, Theo addresses the audience with his recollections of the tortured but brilliant genius of Vincent Van Gogh.

The Plot of Vincent

Brinkman brilliantly portrays Theo but also speaks as Vincent, encapsulated in the voluminous correspondence between the two brothers.  During the play, Theo reads snippets of letters sent by Vincent as a vehicle for propelling the story.  Vincent wrote over 600 letters to Theo which he kept and were later published by Theo’s widow.  The letters are descriptive, emotional and, at times, agonizing as Vincent spirales into severe mental illness.  Much of what is know about Vincent comes from the correspondence.

Born into a strict religious family, Vincent envisions himself as a missionary and spends many months in his youth among poor, desperate miners in Belgium.  He empathizes so much with them that he sells his possessions to help them, sleeping on the ground and eating sparingly.  This effects his health later.  He dapples in drawing and starts to take painting seriously when he goes to Paris and is befriended by other artists who are searching for another avenue beyond impressionism.  

Vincent moves to Arles in the southern part of France and is instrumental in creating post-impressionism which features natural beauty, brilliant colors, and strong emotional content in the art.  He paints feverishly in the last two years of his life, producing over 600 works among the 2100 total he created.   However, depressing mental illness and his inability to recognize his own genius leads Vincent to suicide at age 37.  The first painting he sells is only months before his death.  Theo agonizes “You love everybody else.  Why can’t you love yourself.”

Themes

Even though the viewpoint is Theo’s, we can see the progression of Vincent’s artistic genius by following his career from the drawings of the miners to the outdoor settings of wheat fields and sunflowers.  Vincent’s lack of personal esteem and underestimation of his own worth plus an obsessive attraction to women who despise him exacerbates his mental decline.  He is ridiculed and derided for his mental “weaknesses.”   But it is also an exhilarating depiction of art and endearing brotherly love.  At the end of Act One, Theo breaks down emotionally at the death of his brother and friend.

Chad Brinkman as Theo Van Gogh in "Vincent."
Chad Brinkman as Theo Van Gogh in “Vincent.”

Production

Director David Derringer has created a realistic yet ultimately inspiring story of Van Gogh.  The set design by Ted Weil is simple but symbolic. It includes a writing table with a candle and a vase of sunflowers.  (Sunflower seeds are placed on the seats in the audience).  There are several paintings on the wall, a mail box, an easel, and a pulpit.  Brinkman uses the easel and a paint pallet to demonstrate Van Gogh’s techniques. 

The coup-de-gras, however is a screen which, throughout the production, shows a constant stream of Van Gogh drawings, paintings, location pictures and shots of his actual correspondence.  Designed by Derringer and Nikole Friend, it helps tell the story and move the play along.  We also marvel at Van Gogh’s artistic progression.  This is a highlight of the show.

Outstanding Performance

Brinkman, who segues between Theo and Vincent, sets the perfect tone for the story.  At times, he is conversational as he tells Vincent’s story. Other times he is emotional and overwrought as Vincent and occasionally demonstrative as a preacher.  He also roams around the theater which moves the audience’s focal point.  Brinkman is compelling in a difficult one-actor role.  

Overall

This is an excellent production and typical of the small gems frequently seen at the Falcon on Monmouth Street in Newport, KY. So, grab your paintbrushes and easel on down the road to the colorful palette of Vincent running through February 10.

Tickets to Vincent

Order your tickets online HERE or call (513) 479-6783. Their next production is Breaking the Code running from March 15 through March 30.