The subject is gripping: the tormented Vincent van Gogh, and his art.
But the performance of "Vincent," a one-man show presented over the weekend at Catholic University's Hartke Theater, did not come to grips with its material. Leonard Nimoy wrote and performed "Vincent" in a mundane manner that didn't begin to do justice to the intense drama that marked Van Gogh's Life.
Nimoy spent most of his onstage time in the role of Theo, on whom Vincent depended for financial and moral support. But the audience knew hardly anything more about Theo at the end of the evening than it did at the beginning. Theo existed only to explain and justify his brother.
Either Nimoy or Phillip Stephens, whose earlier play "Van Gogh" Nimoy used to compile his material, wrote rather stilted speeches for Theo, and Nimoy delivered them without much attention to nuances or dynamics. Occasionally, Nimoy would pose as Vincent himself, using some of the letters Vincent wrote to Theo for his words, but generally Nimoy has created a flat supporting role and neglected to write a leading character.
Fortunately, Nimoy, the director, was more astute than Nimoy, the writer and actor. The timed the words to accompany slides of Van Gogh's paintings projected on two large screens-which quickly drew attention away from the actor.So Van Gogh was marvelously present through his work (though the screens couldn't quite capture the richness of the artist's impasto). And in one ethereal sequence, Don McLean's song "Vincent" was used to highlight the slides.
Lighting designer Donald Ostertag also created some dramatically varied effects.
In the end, though, "Vincent" is timid. Nimoy/Theo tries to pass off Van Gogh's final agony as misunderstood epilepsy. Van Gogh may have been epileptic, but epileptics do not drink kerosene, eat paint or slice off their ears."Vincent" seems unable to face the ultimate implications of its hero's life and death.