"Painting, for me, is both sickness and intoxication,' Norwegian painter Edvard Munch once stated. The images of fear, loneliness, suffering and death that pervade his works also have about them a sense of exquisite expression that transcends their subject matter. Munch is the personification of the love-hate relationship many artists feel for their art.

To illuminate this duality, "ensemblet," a group of Norwegian actors, is presenting "Edvard Munch... Painted Words" in the auditorium of the National Gallery of Art's East Building, in conjunction with the current exhibit of the artist's paintings. The setting for the 50-minute play is an imagined conversation between the aged Munch and a journalist during which selections from his diaries and notes are quoted to convey the forces which shaped his art.

With a solo guitarist providing the musical accompaniment and projected slides illustrating the relation of his words to his work, "Painted Words" provides insights into the creative drives of this complex artist. The four actors perform a brief history of his life, with crucial events and vignettes being highlighted to show the feelings of despair from which Munch wrenched his powerful and disturbing canvases

"Edvard Munch... Painted Words" will be presented today and Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. Admission is free.