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'Vincent' as a Man of Letters

One-man show in Fullerton pays tribute to van Gogh's life as portrayed through his communications with his brother.

November 06, 2000|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

People like their idols flawed. Even today, many knowledgeable people continue to say that Vincent van Gogh was mad.

This subject fascinated actor Leonard Nimoy and led him to research and write "Vincent," a one-man play that Nimoy starred in on Broadway and that won critical and popular acclaim.

For five years, the role has been performed by Jim Jarrett, and for one performance Saturday, Jarrett was on stage at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, as part of Cal State Fullerton's Professional Artists in Residence (PAIR) series.

In many ways it is an intriguing evening.

Nimoy's script is based on the thousands of letters van Gogh sent to his younger brother, Theo. The brothers had a symbiotic relationship. Vincent was the genius, Theo the salesman and PR man. Though Theo, as a Paris art dealer, sold only a couple of Vincent's paintings before the artist's death, his dedication to Vincent is a love story. Shortly after Vincent's death Theo died, at age 34, presumably of a broken heart.

Their unusual relationship is at the heart of Nimoy's script, and Jarrett, playing both roles, manages to light fires under his images of both. His Theo is ardent, desperately subservient to his brother's burden, and charmingly realistic about Vincent's work. Jarrett's portrait of Vincent, from a sermon he delivered to miners as a young man unsure of his purpose, to the fading master of color and form, is unerring in its view of a man, as Theo says, "so full of love, but none for himself."

Van Gogh, according to Theo, created 70 oils and 30 drawings during the last 70 days of his life. This is not the way of a madman, even though villagers in Arles laughed and threw garbage at him. Jarrett, and Nimoy, do not lay heavy on this, merely mentioning it as fact, along with the legendary story of Vincent's gift of his ear to a prostitute named Rachel. He was ill, Theo says, but not mad, a statement Jarrett makes with an almost violent and very effective urgency.

This urgency, disturbed only by some too-long dramatic pauses, is what brings life, simmering beneath the surface, to this one-note but sorrowfully melodic tribute to a great artist.

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