Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Color of Light
Vantage Theatre / Talent To aMuse
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

O.P. Hadlock and Cecily Keppel
Photo by Marti Kranzberg
Some artists' lives are so interesting that their stories continue to be discussed to this day. Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo are known for being as fascinating as the art they created. Although Henri Matisse is probably more respected than most other virtuosi and geniuses, a lot of people aren't familiar with who he was as a man. Vantage Theatre and Talent to aMuse's world premiere production of The Color of Light shows a side of Matisse that will surprise many theatregoers. Instead of telling a conventional dramatization of the French innovator, playwright Jesse Kornbluth focuses on a specific period of Matisse's life.

In 1942, Matisse (O.P. Hadlock), then an atheist and living in Nice, meets a young woman, Monique Bourgeois (Cecily Keppel), who applies to be his night nurse. After she's hired, the two have intimate discussions about religion, family and art. Later on, Bourgeois quits her position because of her faith, becomes a nun, and adopts the name of Sister Jacques-Marie. Matisse is heartbroken over her choice, and they stop speaking to each other for a period of time. After they become reacquainted in 1947, he begins to design and craft a masterpiece, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, (The Chapel of the Rosary, located in Vence).

Kornbluth's drama isn't meant to be an art lecture. While plenty of Matisse's art is featured and referenced during the play, the focus is on the relationship that grows between Matisse and Bourgeois. What's refreshing about the connection they share is that their feelings never blossom into romance. Instead, Matisse acts more like a caring grandfather than an artist obsessed with his muse. Their bond is touchingly explored through the performances of Hadlock and Keppel.

Accents used by the majority of the cast weren't the most consistent on opening night. Still, that didn't detract from the leads' emotional acting. Matisse and Bourgeois might have shared a positive friendship, yet Hadlock (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Matisse) showcases the physical and mental pain that haunted the artist. Matisse's best work comes from an inner torment, and he has very few close relationships with family or friends. Keppel's depiction of Bourgeois isn't anywhere near as damaged. At the start, Bourgeois lacks self-confidence and doesn't seem comfortable with herself. Once Matisse and Bourgeois start to hit it off, however, Cecily demonstrates an inner strength that grows from that point forward.

Several funny supporting roles bring just the right amount of levity to the tale. Bobbie Helland, Jody Catlin, James Steinberg, and Terrence J. Burke make the most of comic relief sequences. Helland and Steinberg in particular share hilarious, and sometimes moving, chemistry with Hadlock in their portrayals of Matisse's assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, and the famous Pablo Picasso. Matisse and Picasso have such an entertaining, almost brotherly, rapport that I hope Kornbluth adds another discussion or two between them in later productions.

Moments after an intense introduction, Artistic Director Robert Salerno creates an environment that's generally relaxing and welcoming. Part of this stems from his audio, which includes music from pianists/composters such as Frederic Chopin and Erik Satie. In addition to the soothing music, Salerno stages Kornbluth's written conversations that draw audiences closer to Matisse and Bourgeois. Visually, Hadlock's set and Sheila Rosen's costumes, particularly Hadlock's clothing in both acts, pay respect to the real events and environment of the day. Just as important are Salerno's projections, which incorporate plenty of notable work that Matisse created at various points of his career. World War II footage also does a powerful job of adding historical context to the plot.

With a tight script and an inspiring factual narrative at its center, The Color of Light warmly honors one of the most important men in the world of modern art. Matisse and Bourgeois's friendship is genuinely uplifting to experience.

Vantage Theatre in association with Talent To aMuse presents The Color of Light through February 3, 2018. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 930 Tenth Ave, San Diego CA. Tickets are $30.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-619-940-6813.