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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Sunday in the Park with George
Signature Theatre


Brynn O'Malley and Claybourne Elder
Painter Georges Seurat used color and light as his building blocks in creating his 1886 masterwork, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, gets sublime results through a similar method—small pieces adding up to a greater whole—in its design and staging of Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer Prize-winning work speculating on the creation of the painting.

Some audiences found the show enigmatic and difficult to follow at its Broadway premiere in 1984—just as Seurat's work received little appreciation in his own time—but 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.


Photo: Margot Schulman

Signature Theatre
Sunday in the Park with George
August 5th - September 21st
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Act One:
George: Claybourne Elder
Dot: Brynn O'Malley
Old Lady: Donna Migliaccio
Nurse: Maria Egler
Franz: Evan Casey
Bathers: Sadie Rose Herman, Lucy Alexa Herman
Man: Joseph Mace
Jules: Mitchell Hébert
Yvonne: Valerie Leonard
Boatman: Paul Scanlan
Celeste #1: Susan Derry
Celeste #2: Erin Driscoll
Louis: Joseph Mace
Louise: Sadie Rose Herman
Frieda: Angela Miller
Soldier: Gregory Maheu
Mr.: Dan Manning
Mrs.: Maria Egler
Act Two:
George: Claybourne Elder
Marie: Brynn O'Malley
Naomi Eisen: Valerie Leonard
Dennis: Paul Scanlan
Robert Greenberg: Mitchell Hébert
Harriet Pawling: Maria Egler
Billy Webster: Joseph Mace
Charles Redmond: Dan Manning
Alex: Gregory Maheu
Betty: Angela Miller
Elaine: Erin Driscoll
Blair Daniels: Donna Migliaccio
Lee Randolph: Evan Casey
Waitress: Susan Derry
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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