A middle-class kitchen in Victorian England may seem an unlikely backdrop for the larger-than-life artistic passions of Vincent van Gogh, but Nicholas Wright’s Vincent in Brixton illuminates a little known-segment of the artist’s life in brilliant Technicolor. Passions flare and inspiration is born as Van Gogh crashes into the world of a seemingly ordinary Victorian family.
Micah McCoy shines as the young artist. His Van Gogh vibrates with a barely contained energy, as if he could leap up at any moment and begin painting on the walls.
One starry night …
photo by Russell Maynor
The play opens in Brixton, England, in 1873, where a 22-year-old Van Gogh has rented a room in the home of Mrs. Ursula Loyer (Bridget Kelly) and her daughter Eugenie (Kir Kipness). The story is contained on a single set. This places the focus firmly on the actors, especially McCoy and Kelly, who simmer with an almost uncomfortable chemistry. As Vincent's affections turn from Eugenie to her mother, two things become clear: first, that Vincent and Ursula are better matched than he and Eugenie ever were; and second, the relationship is a train wreck waiting to happen. The lovers are a mirror of each other, both brilliant in their own way, both equally self-destructive. And yet even as the affair reaches its ultimate conclusion, there’s the sense of a missed opportunity—as if, given enough time, Ursula and Vincent could have dragged each other up from the darkness and into the light.
As a counterpoint, the romance between Eugenie and Sam, the Loyers’ second lodger, is much less volatile, although it too is not without its tensions. Travis Armstrong puts in a solid performance as Sam who, unlike Vincent, sees art as the purview of the working man and finds satisfaction in a well-painted trim. Although not without artistic talent of his own, Sam gives up a scholarship to a prestigious art school in favor of raising a family. This conflict between unfettered creativity and solid dependability lies at the core of Vincent in Brixton.
Mandy Hanson plays Anna, Vincent's sister and the eventual catalyst for his departure from the Loyer household. She attacks the part with gusto, whirling about the stage with an enthusiasm that makes McCoy's vibrant performance look sedate by comparison.
The Aux Dog Theatre (3011 Monte Vista NE) is the perfect venue for this story. The theater’s small size lends the play a sense of intimacy, as if the audience is peering in through the kitchen window. Nicholas Wright's script forges ahead at a steady clip, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. Though largely fictional, the play illuminates an elusive and contradictory figure in history.
Aux Dog Theatre’s production of Vincent in Brixton is like a Van Gogh painting come to life: full of broad, slashing strokes and bold, vibrant colors. It is not to be missed.
Vincent in Brixton
Runs through May 3 Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm Aux Dog Theatre 3011 Monte Vista NE auxdog.com, 254-7716 Tickets: $20 general, $18 students