Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Nimoy (best known for playing the Vulcan Spock throughout the "Star Trek" television series and movies) developed this script from approximately 500 letters exchanged between the brothers. He performed it more than 150 times over a three-year period between 1979 and 1982, when he toured it to 35 American cities. Starting with Theo, speaking a week or so after Vincent's death in 1880, the script is a 75-minute monologue (one intermission) in which the performer moves seamlessly back and forth between the two characters.
For Falcon's production, actor Chad Brinkman takes on this demanding performance, directed by David Derringer. It is set on Falcon's small stage with a video screen offering images of numerous artworks by the painter. Otherwise the production is simple–a writing desk with a candle and two side tables, an easel and palette, and a few framed paintings on the wall, perhaps of Theo's gallery. Brinkman's career includes performances in more than one hundred productions in New York and elsewhere. Today he lives in Cincinnati and has directed and designed shows for several local community theaters. His powerful performance in Vincent is memorable.
At first he is Theo, the gentle, soft-spoken gallery operator who can barely put words around his grief over his brother's death. Drawing from their extensive correspondence, he recounts several moments in Vincent's erratic life. He worked as an evangelist among impoverished miners and made stern dramatic sermons that surely fell on deaf ears. He tried to woo a cousin who steadfastly avoided his romantic advances, then turned his attention to an uncultured, argumentative pregnant woman of the streets with a child and a mother. Van Gogh's parents disapproved of his irresolute life, but Theo did his best to understand and support him.
Brinkman draws clear distinctions between the pair. As Theo, he is refined and well-spoken, often bemused and frustrated by Vincent's antic ways and frequently irrational decisions. Nevertheless, Theo supported Vincent monetarily throughout his life. When Brinkman steps into the role of Vincent, his voice changes to a rapid rasp, and his physical posture is tense and nervous. Occasionally, he puts on a hat or wraps a scarf around his neck, and there are moments when he picks up the palette and mimes painting on the vacant easel. Constantly moving back and forth across the stage and occasionally coming forward to the center aisle that divides the audience, he never allows his performance to become static. Ted Weil's moody lighting design underscores the action and keeps the show mobile and engaging.
Theo tells us that Vincent spent his turbulent life pursuing love, while often sabotaging his own efforts. "Life without love," Vincent wrote in a letter, "is a sinful condition." But he struggled to find and practice that emotion, especially when he relocated to the town of Arles, where he shared a cottage with his contemporary artist acquaintance, Paul Gauguin. The two of them spent as much time in fierce arguments as in artistic pursuits; one of those arguments was the cause of Vincent slicing his ear. The citizens of Arles were thoughtless in their interactions with the painter. They mocked his odd behavior, harassed him constantly, and petitioned to place him in a psychiatric hospital.
Finally, when he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1888 under the care of a sensitive doctor, Vincent began to paint feverishly, sometimes two canvases a day. Most of his 860 memorable oil paintings were created in the final two years of his life, many focused on bright sunlit subjects, indicating a more stable, happy existence. But he was plagued with depression and epilepsy that brought on hallucinations and seizures, elements also appearing in his art. Theo remorsefully states that in his final weeks, Vincent seemed to be on a path toward a new, more positive beginning just as he ended his life. (It's not mentioned in this play, but it's sad to note that Theo died just six months after his brother. Eventually, their graves were placed side-by-side.)
Chad Brinkman delivers an excellent solo performance, convincing and effective as both characters. Theo is overcome by emotion as he seeks to comfort Vincent on his deathbed; Brinkman's depth of feeling is affecting and heartfelt. His performance is one definitely worth seeing. Falcon Theatre has just 75 seats. I urge you to reserve one before this production is over. You won't be disappointed.
Vincent runs through February 10, 2024, at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth Street, Newport KY. For tickets and information, visit falcontheater.net or call 513-479-6783.