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Review: Revisiting the brush strokes in Leonard Nimoy's 'Vincent'

October 09, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • Jean-Michel Richaud gives voice to both Theo and Vincent Van Gogh in Leonard Nimoy's "Vincent."
Jean-Michel Richaud gives voice to both Theo and Vincent Van Gogh in Leonard… (Yana Gorskaya )

Vincent Van Gogh didn’t just work at things — he attacked them, eulogizes his grieving brother Theo in the Next Arena’s revival of “Vincent.” As performed by French-born actor Jean-Michel Richaud, this insightful and often moving 1981 solo show penned by Leonard Nimoy transcends the usual clichés surrounding the high-maintenance artist with the tortured relationship to his aural appendage.

Nimoy knows from ears, of course, but his script looks beyond merely sensational biographical episodes to the unifying themes in three principal facets of Vincent’s adult life: God, love and art. As Theo admits during an imaginary tribute conducted a week after his brother’s death, Vincent pursued all three with perhaps an overdeveloped sense of drama, but always with passion.

Weaving Theo’s reminiscences with excerpts from more than 500 letters Vincent wrote him, the monologue covers Vincent’s failed attempt to become a preacher, his doomed efforts at romantic relationships and his discovery of his true calling as a painter.

In contrast to the two distinct voices Nimoy employed in his original performances of the piece, Richaud renders both brothers with a single inflection style. The approach may more naturalistically fit the premise (resolutely conformist Theo reading aloud Vincent’s letters), but it comes at the cost of less cleanly differentiated personalities.

Richaud’s assured delivery keeps the narrative clear, though his French accent remains a distraction (the Van Goghs were Dutch). On the plus side, he hits the right emotional notes and proves particularly adept at the ironic humor with which Theo recalls Vincent’s foibles.

Paul Stein’s staging complements the unfolding narrative with well-chosen images of Van Gogh’s paintings, particularly the self-portraits that chronicle the artist’s losing battle with a world in which he could not accept compromise.

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Vincent,” VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 11. $20. (323) 417-2170 or www.thenextarena.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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