Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Sunday in the Park with George
Some audiences found the show enigmatic and difficult to follow at its Broadway premiere in 1984just as Seurat's work received little appreciation in his own timebut it has become beloved in the intervening 30 years. Through the sensitive direction of Matthew Gardiner and the efforts of a strong cast, viewers who once might have seen only small, disconnected dramas and a frustrated protagonist can understand Sunday as the vision of an artist attempting to bring his world into focus.
The painter now called George (Claybourne Elder) has a ringing tenor voice and a powerful stage presence. (Unfortunately, he also has an obviously fake-looking beard, which takes some getting used to.) Beginning rather callow and self-absorbed, he zeroes in on his subjects, attempting to capture some essence of them and bring them together in a harmonic whole without really getting to know them. His glorious song "Finishing the Hat" is the epiphany he needs to understand the interconnections of life. In the second act, set in 1984, he is more naturalistic as the great-grandson of the earlier George, another artist looking for new ways to depict what he wants to say.
Brynn O'Malley gives a luminous performance as both Dot, the model who loves George but can't understand his isolation ("I am not hiding behind my painting," he tells her, "I am living in it"), and Marie, Dot's elderly granddaughter in 1984. Along with beauty and grace, O'Malley demonstrates an impish sense of humor.
Donna Migliaccio gives a magisterial performance as George's mother, a woman trying to make peace with rapid changes in society. Most of the cast members are familiar from past Signature productions, here giving cameo-like performances in small roles.
The designers find ingenious ways to bring the audience inside George's head. Specifically, Jennifer Schriever's lighting design allows light to emanate from the painting, bathing George's face and hands, and washes of dappled light echo the dot-by-dot construction of George's work. Daniel Conway's apparently simple scenic design brings the park into George's studio and encompasses numerous settings.