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Jane Enkin

Sunday In the Park With George-- Sondheimfest review

Jane Enkin, Jan 31, 2012

Sondheimfest continues through February 3, 2013

Gallery Works Theatre's production of Sunday In the Park With George ran from January 20 to January 27, 2013, as part of Sondheimfest. 

Producer Erin McGrath chose to present an early version of the musical, unlike the Broadway version which includes a second act set in the late 20th century. The result is a focus on the creation of Georges Seurat's great painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.” 

Director Arne Macpherson moved the large cast beautifully, showing us how Seurat imagined “A Sunday Afternoon” and other well-known paintings by observing everyday gestures. At times, the whole cast except Seurat himself took their places in a recreation of the painting. We also saw projections of some of Seurat's works on a screen. While I appreciated the advantages of the huge space the Urban Shaman Gallery provided, I was frustrated by sightlines. My seat was central, in the third row, but whole scenes were invisible to me because they were tucked beside a large pillar. (For some reason, these intimate scenes were always set downstage left!)

Simon Miron, as George, sang with delicacy, echoing the style of the role's great interpreter, Mandy Patinkin. He was energetic and exciting to watch in scenes of sketching, painting and analyzing art, and appropriately restrained when dealing with feelings and relationships.

Erin McGrath was delightful as Dot, George's model and frustrated lover. She has a lovely, clear voice, again very much in the ringing style of recordings I've heard of Sondheim's work. She's also a terrific physical performer – there was a wonderful (hard to describe) moment when she was suffering from standing rigidly in the heat, posing. She took a step forward, and we could tell that it was a mental step only, and that while she moved freely across the stage, her character was actually still standing perfectly still for the artist. She shared generously Dot's complex feelings, warm not only in her romantic love for George but her appreciation of his artwork, yet recognizing all her own unmet needs.

The other talented performers fill mostly types, such as “Boatman”, “Nurse” and “Soldier”, charming at times, acid at others. They literally rush past George and swirl around him, as he watches and learns.  I enjoyed the way Stefanie Wiens showed the repressed longing of the Nurse. Marina Stephenson Kerr was powerful as the judgmental, but ultimately sympathetic Yvonne. The challenging ensemble singing, built up of rapid fire solo lines and rich harmony, was very fine.

The main subject of this musical is an intellectual one, the process of making art. Wonderful things are said about the ways visual artists see, and the ways they empower the viewer to construct an image. Seurat's pointillist technique, as the artist tells us, involves placing tiny daubs of colour side by side, which the viewer combines – we see violet where he has painted dots of red and blue. This approach makes transparent the collaboration that actually exists between all artists, in every medium, and those who pay attention. We create together.

George has some opportunities to explain his approach to critical observers. He also sings as he observes and paints, allowing us to see inside his process. He is a perfectionist, constantly making adjustments. He is enchanted by colour and light, and yearns for order and harmony. 


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