By Rich Kane
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By Patrice Wirth Marsters
By Erin DeWitt
By Taylor Hamby
By LP Hastings
Bust out Aristotle's Poetics for this one. Steven Dietz's Inventing Van Gogh is the kind of moral tragedy the Great Philosopher would love to dissect, one that makes you question the value of your craft—and the value others place on it—about every three minutes.
Although the play unfolds entirely in the studio of a modern-day artist named Patrick Stone, it manages to transcend both time and space through Stone's hallucinatory interactions with Vincent Van Gogh. The plot revolves around Stone's inability to paint since the mysterious death of his mentor and former teacher, Dr. Jonas Miller, a man who had been obsessed with Van Gogh's lifetime pursuit of the perfect self-portrait. Stone has always considered Van Gogh undeserving of his reputation as a master, but because of his "artist's block"—and his role in Miller's death—is coerced by a slimy art authenticator into copying Van Gogh's final self-portrait, a work whose mere existence is uncertain.
Stone gets a disheveled portrayal by Casey Long, which adds to the desperate sense of an existence haunted by forces from this world and beyond.
Van Gogh, played by a seasoned David J. Dalton, appears and reappears via hallucinations—Stone's, Dr. Miller's and even his own. By the end of the play he has turned every notion of his psychosis on its—er, his—severed ear. Dalton renders Van Gogh as a lovable neurotic instead of a brooding lunatic, filling the stage with a larger-than-life performance.
John Lamer plays the dual roles of Van Gogh's outspoken colleague, Paul Gaugin, and the creepy art authenticator Rene Bouchard, and he really shines in the latter, bringing to despicable life the character we love to hate.
In fact, three of the five actors play dual roles, and combined with all the flashbacks, visions and even actors switching roles in the middle of a scene, things can get complicated. But director Oanh Nguyen has come a long way from his geeky days playing a fat band geek on Hang Time, and he keeps the play focused on its examination of the obsessive compulsion to create timeless work.
Surprisingly, the limited space of the Chance Theater seems to give greater density to the philosophical predicament at the center of Inventing Van Gogh: whether Stone ought to choose to forge the portrait, re-write history, and live as a fraud for eternity—or remain a miserable, dirt-poor artist who may never be discovered.
INVENTING VAN GOGH, AT THE CHANCE THEATER, 5552 E. LA PALMA AVE., ANAHEIM HILLS, (714) 777-3033; WWW.CHANCETHEATER.COM. SAT., 4 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M. THROUGH MAR. 11. $22-$25.