REVIEW: “INVENTING VAN GOGH” — GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE THEATER ARTS
Updated: Mar 13
MARCH 11, 2023 — HUNTINGTON BEACH
"Inventing Van Gogh" by Steven Dietz is one of those theatrical experiences where, at the end of the evening, you are pleased to discover your brain cells have been given a nice workout.
To Wit: When a contemporary painter, Patrick, is hired to forge Vincent van Gogh's final lost self-portrait, Van Gogh himself begins to appear in Patrick's studio. As the reality of Van Gogh's life starts to overshadow his well-known myth, Patrick finds himself in a moral struggle. The result is a compelling and poetic mystery about madness, the obsession to create, and the fine line that separates truth from myth.
After all, what’s not to appreciate about obsession? It’s what drives the great among us to glory even as it drives them mad, and artists it seems, are especially vulnerable.
Take Dr. Jonas Miller (Scott Keister), art professor. He has devoted his life to discovering the whereabouts of said self-portrait, supposedly painted at the end of Van Gogh’s life when he was under the care of his psychiatrist and patron Dr. Paul Gachet (also played by Mr. Keister). Unfortunately, Dr. Miller dies under suspicious circumstances, a tortured man with an unfulfilled dream.
Then there’s Van Gogh himself (Luke Brodowski), deranged and now haunting Miller’s delusional protégé, Patrick (Patrick Peterson), as he struggles through artists’ block and guilt to forge the lost masterpiece. Not his idea, but they’re not called starving artists for nothing. Throw in the depressed hedonist Paul Gauguin (Jeremy Krasovic) for good measure, and watch the creative sparks fly.
The children of geniuses are their unintended victims. Hallie Miller and Marguerite Gachet (both played by Amanda Byrd) are the mentors’ daughters, who become Patrick’s and Van Gogh’s muses, both devoted to fathers and lovers who will never be theirs. These women seek affection while René Bouchard (also Jeremy Krasovic), an unscrupulous art authenticator, seeks only profit with a plan to create and then “discover” the lost masterpiece.
The plot is clever and the acting terrific. Mr. Peterson’s Patrick conveys the cockiness of a brooding enfant terrible blessed with charm and cursed with a conscience. Mr. Keister is at his all-time best as the quintessential art professor, passionate and preening. And Mr. Brodowski is Van Gogh incarnate, from his ruddy beard to his manic philosophizing. Meanwhile, Mr. Krasovic’s boundless energy and volume bring excitement to Gauguin’s pragmatic voice of reason.
Directed by Tom Amen, who is now in his 23rd year as Professor of Theater Arts at Golden West College, “Inventing Van Gogh,” written by Steven Dietz, will be presented in a total of seven performances from March 10th through March 19th on the GWC Mainstage. Some of Director Amen’s most notable recent productions have been “On the Exhale,” “The Pillowman,” “Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein),” and “Never the Sinner,” among a host of others.
Steven Dietz, sometimes called "the most ubiquitous American playwright whose name you may never have heard," has long been one of America's most prolific and widely produced contemporary American playwrights. Though several of his plays have been seen Off-Broadway (including "Fiction", "Lonely Planet", "God's Country"), the vast majority of Dietz's plays are produced in American regional theaters. This includes a recent new adaptation of "Dracula" entitled "Dracula: Mina's Quest". His psychological thriller, "How a Boy Falls," premiering in Chicago three years ago, received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Best New Work.
Here, he presents Patrick, a miserable and lonely artist around which the play revolves, who is invited to paint a Van Gogh forgery. The dilemma of whether to accept the commission triggers a range of responses from Patrick, from self-righteousness to resistance to resentment, even as the Sunflowers painter himself materializes in his small studio, symbolizing both a projection of the future and an apparition from the past. Ultimately, the play becomes a platform for addressing Van Gogh’s life, the meaning of art, and in the process, also suddenly becomes a modern detective story.
This complicated scenario also includes Dr. Miller’s daughter Hallie (Amanda Byrd), who has resented her father’s devotion to Van Gogh, whose letters he quoted like scripture. She believes that Dr. Miller was more in love with his dream of finding a final lost self-portrait by Van Gogh than he was with her.
Director Amen commands exemplary performances from his cast and focuses the drama succinctly, aided by a compact set design by Tim Mueller, centered around pallets and simple platforms. Amanda Martin’s costumes are also well-chosen for both the modern and historical characters and adds much to the ambiance.
Few painters before or since have inspired as strong a cult of personality as Van Gogh. Most likely bipolar, Van Gogh suffered from hallucinations, epileptic fits, suicidal tendencies and wild acts of self-mutilation (including a notorious episode wherein he lopped off his own ear). Poignantly enough, despite the copious amount of his correspondence available to us, there remains so much of Van Gogh’s enigmatic personality that remains hidden in the shadows.
If certain thematic parallels emerge between Van Gogh’s life and Patrick’s, it’s not a coincidence. At its core, “Inventing Van Gogh” is about the self-reflective capacities innate to all artistic creation, and there’s a certain sophisticated thrill in watching Patrick wade through the mess of Van Gogh’s life for meaning only to find such an act illuminating his own circumstances. Indeed, in his efforts to forge Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Patrick realizes that he has ultimately forged his own. In looking into the face of another, he has found himself. As fitting an homage to the master self-portraitist as one might hope to achieve onstage.
GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE THEATER ARTS DEPARTMENT, PRESENTS ON THE MAINSTAGE — INVENTING VAN GOGH; By STEVEN DIETZ; Directed by TOM AMEN; Scenic Design by TIM MUELLER; Costume Design by AMANDA MARTIN; Lighting Design by MATT SCHLEICHER; Sound Design by VERONICA MULLINS BOWERS; Hair & Makeup Design by MICHON GRUBER; Props Master MARLEY OYEN; Stage Manager LYDIA MCRAE.
WITH: PATRICK PETERSON • LUKE BRODOWSKI • SCOTT KEISTER • AMANDA BYRD • JEREMY KRASOVIC
GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE’S “INVENTING VAN GOGH,” will run March 10-19 as follows: Friday, March 10th at 7:30PM; Saturday, March 11th at 7:30PM; Sunday, March 12th at 2PM; Thursday, March 16th at 7:30PM; Friday, March 17th at 7:30PM; Saturday, March 18th at 7:30PM; and Sunday, March 19th at 2PM; Running Time with intermission approximately 2 ½ Hours. Tickets may be purchased online at www.gwctheater.com/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report