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Review: 'Inventing Van Gogh' well-suited for academic theater

Friday, November 21, 2008  
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By Victor R. Yehling
Posted Nov 21, 2008 @ 09:22 AM

“Inventing Van Gogh,” the current stage offering at Rockford College, is perfectly suited to academic theater.

This Steven Dietz psychodrama explores some of the myths and legends about the postimpressionist painter and his relationships with his contemporary Paul Gauguin and the Impressionist masters who preceded them, wound into a tale of a modern painter asked to forge “the last self-portrait” of Van Gogh.

Dietz’s script mingles scenes of present day with imagined scenes of Van Gogh’s life in the late 1800s. The historical portion is well researched, with allusions to the artist’s mental state, his time in the care of Dr. Paul Gachet, and his attempt to form a communal “Studio of the South” with Gauguin.

Adam Kasprowicz does a fair job as the painter Patrick Stone, handling the potentially confusing play structure of switching from present reality to past surreality reasonably effectively.

He and Matt Casey, who plays Van Gogh, are the only members of the cast who have the luxury of playing a single character. Casey also has to float between the past and present but, in his case, reality and surreality are reversed.

Andrew Pollock has the dual roles of Gauguin and art expert Rene Bouchard. As the former, he’s appropriately blustery and overbearing, and as the latter, he’s suitably weaselly and conniving. He very effectively defines the two characters and keeps them distinct.

David Jacobs plays the dual roles of Dr. Gachet and present-day art professor Dr. Jonas Miller, who dies somewhat mysteriously on a Van Gogh “pilgrimage” to France. As the professor and Stone’s mentor, Jacobs is effusively erudite; and he plays the physician as tentative and a little bit weird. It works, and it gives each character his own identity.

Reesa Morala plays the daughters of Jacobs’s characters — Hallie Miller and Marguerite Gachet — who are enamored of the artists in their time frames. Her characterizations are a little less discrete than the other dual-role actors, and her efforts as Hallie — especially portraying anger — could use a little more dimension.

Scenic designer Noel Rennerfeld has created a raked (sloped up from front to back) stage in the “black box” Cheek Theatre, with the present-day studio represented on one side and 19th-century France on the other. The juxtaposition allows for easy interplay when the time frames are crossed and past and present characters interact.

Jeff Hendry’s costumes are helpful in separating the past characters from the present and make the changes for the dual-role actors clean and easy to execute.

Director Deborah Magford makes good use of the set, although it appears that the student actors find themselves being upstaged by placement from time to time. The play moves along at a good pace and, although occasionally a bit esoteric for general audiences, it offers some fascinating insights into how we define ourselves and our heroes.

“Inventing Van Gogh” is a thought-provoking drama that offers an interesting interlude, especially for art aficionados. It runs through Sunday; call 815-226-4100 for ticket information.

Victor R. Yehling has been reviewing, directing and performing in plays in Rockford and elsewhere for four decades. He has a degree in theater from Beloit College.

This story appeared at on November 21, 2008.

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