“Inventing Van Gogh” at Big Idea Theatre

Big Idea Theatre’s production of “Inventing Van Gogh” tells the story of the artist’s famed and final self-portrait which has been lost. The show introduces us to Van Gogh himself, a modern-day professor whose search for the lost masterpiece has become all-consuming, and the young artist commissioned to paint the forgery.

The script, written by Steven Dietz, is absolutely wonderful. There are so many good things to be said about it that I could go on for pages and pages. It is clever, smart, witty, poignant, and gives the actors really fantastic material to build solid performances upon.

And that five-person cast delivers first-rate performances that do Dietz’s amazing script justice. Brian Watson plays Van Gogh with a tremendous intensity. He is at times utterly endearing, almost frightening, and unceasingly passionate. He is absolutely fantastic in the role.

Brennan Villados brings the painter Patrick Stone to life. The scenes between Watson and Villados are very dynamic. As Stone, Villados seems brooding and moody, which is right in keeping with his character. The young artist can be rude and abrasive – but he has some very charming moments as well.

Kristine David plays both Hattie Miller and Marguerite Gachet, and steps between the roles effortlessly. She is alternately strong and vulnerable as Hattie, and brings a lot of depth to Marguerite.

Doctors Miller and Gachet are both played by Kevin Toole. His passion as Dr. Miller, who is searching for Van Gogh’s final portrait, is very believable. And his fascination with Van Gogh in both roles, as the modern-day Miller and Van Gogh’s caretaker Gachet, is very well-played.

Ed Gyles, Jr. brings Reneé Bouchard, one of Van Gogh’s mentors, and the art authenticator Paul Gauguin to life. Many of his scenes as Bouchard are highlights of the show. He and Watson get into wonderfully-scripted and expertly-delivered debates over art, which had the audience going from laughter to thoughtful humming throughout.

In addition to playing Van Gogh, Watson designed the show’s beautiful set. It was perfect for this play and the intimate space in which it was performed. The excellent projections designed by Jouni Kirjola and evocative lighting design by Nic Candito together helped show a number of changes in time and location  without slowing down the pace of the show. Director Benjamin T. Ismail brought a lot of interest to the play with creative staging and artistic tableaux throughout, and helped his cast deliver heartfelt and honest performances.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show. I was delighted by the level of professionalism exhibited in this production – I would put it on par with shows I’ve seen at B Street Theatre, one of Sacramento’s leading (and very well-respected) regional theaters.

Fantastic job, Big Idea! I’ll definitely be back to see more!

“Inventing Van Gogh” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through May 17.  Tickets at http://bigideatheatre.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=208

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