La Jolla Playhouse brings the world premiere “to the yellow house” and an important period in the life and art of Vincent van Gogh to life through December 12th. With some excellent performances, beautiful costumes, and projections this show explores the period of van Gogh’s life where everything seemed grey before his world and paintings burst into full bloom and color.
The play focuses on the two-year period just before van Gogh’s paintings burst into the richly hued and textured works that probably spring to mind when you hear his name. Mostly set in Paris in 1886, this is when van Gogh was trying to study art and build his painting skills in the prescribed “successful” manner.
Vincent (Paco Tolson) is a lot like his art, sometimes dark, moody, and misunderstood. While being supported by his brother Theo (Frankie J. Alvarez), he struggles to make a name for himself in Paris beyond “Theo van Gogh’s brother.” He tries to make friends with painters studying along with him at the salon, have his art shown either in his brother’s art exhibition or even host one of his own, and even falls in love, but all endeavors meet with challenges.
Vincent finds himself often at a cafe run by Agostina (Deidrie Henry) the proprietress who also knows something about artists and the cafe’s waitress/aspiring baker Sophie (Brooke Ishibashi) who currently is having artist relationship issues of her own.
Tolson is an exceptional Vincent, staying true to the artist’s famously disagreeable and quarrelsome personality, while also showing his vulnerability and making the audience care about him. Alvarez is supportive and understanding as brother Theo but also frustrated that his brother can’t seem to find a way to stop sabotaging himself.
Henry is fantastic as Agostino, who is both a businesswoman running her own cafe and a sympathetic soul, having built this life after surviving a few hard knocks herself. Ishibashi’s Sophie is Agostino’s opposite as the emotional young woman tries to find a purpose and a way to reinvent herself in the city, having just discovered the choice that brought her there offers no way to return to her old life.
Marco Barricelli brings three different artists that interacted with van Gogh to life – two of whom with which van Gogh did not work well, Ferdinand Cormon, and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Paul Gaugin who was a friend to van Gough. Other painters from van Gogh’s salon are Alton Alburo and DeLeon Dallas, who bring energy and humor to their performances.
This time period feels like a perpetual grey cloud to Vincent, and the show reflects that. Lots of greys and dark colors make up this world, from the two-story modular sets that are reminiscent of a frame before the canvas is stretched across it (designed by Takeshi Kata) to the costumes (costume designer David Israel Reynoso), to even the projection design (Nicholas Hussong). Sometimes more saturated colors peek out, like the gorgeous dresses worn by Agostina and Sophie in the second act when Vincent is feeling both nervously excited, but still moody and defensive.
In those rare moments of true happiness or inspired creativity the colors are bright and beautiful, vivid blues and pops of yellow. The end of act one is emotionally impactful and is aided by a truly gorgeous visual moment.
The play has a deliberate meditative quality; art, survival, perseverance, failure…every audience member will experience exactly what this play is saying through their own personal lens. Much like interpreting a painting, or poetry, this play’s themes and intention feel more personally malleable than typical theatrical fare.
Written by Kimber Lee the play speaks to the perseverance of van Gogh to come through the series of hardships, and interpersonal struggles and move to the yellow house where he created some of the pieces that showcased his true genius. Yet after the length of the play at two hours and forty-five minutes, the play would benefit from both tightening up the run time and giving the audience more than only the barest hint of the color that was to come from his pieces.
“to the yellow house” is a contemplation on art, love, and tenacity and is playing at the La Jolla Playhouse through December 12th.
How To Get Tickets
For ticket and showtime information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org
La Jolla Playhouse requires proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of showtime for entry. Masks are required the entire time inside the theatre.
Looking for more reviews? Click here