Reviewed by Judy Richter
Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics always are tricky. There are design challenges, too, in this 1984 fictionalized account of the creation of French artist Georges Seurat's monumental painting, translated as "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."
The first act in James Lapine's book for the show takes place between 1884 and 1886, mostly on the island in the Seine near Paris as George (Tyler Bennett) paints his model/mistress, Dot (Katie Nix), other people and their surroundings. Other scenes take place in his studio as he continues to paint.
George is so absorbed in his work that he neglects Dot. Because he's developing a new technique, his work baffles fellow artists. Even when Dot becomes pregnant with their daughter, Marie, he remains focused on his art, causing Dot to marry a kindly baker, Louis, (Michael Weiland), and go to America with him.
Act 2 takes place 100 years later in an American museum, probably the Art Institute of Chicago, where the painting hangs today. George's great-grandson, also named George and played by Bennett, is displaying his latest creation, "Chromolume # 7," a kind of light show, and trying to raise money for the next one during a reception. He's accompanied by his grandmother, Marie, played by Nix.
Later, he goes to Le Grande Jatte in hopes of finding a new direction for his art.
Seurat experimented with color and light by using only 11 colors, no black. Instead of mixing them on his palette, he applied them in tiny dots so that the eyes would do the fusing. This technique came to be known as pointillism.
Inspired by Seurat, Sondheim orchestrated the work for 11 instruments and emulated pointillism with staccato notes in some songs, especially those George sings while painting. Throughout the score, Sondheim fans will recognize echoes of his earlier "Sweeney Todd" and foreshadowings of "Into the Woods."
Musical director Dolores Duran-Cefalu, who conducts from the keyboard, uses a scaled-down orchestration for six other musicians, but it works well.
Bennett as George (Sergey Khalikulov appears in some performances) convincingly portrays his prickly personality and sings well.
Although Nix as Dot/Marie looks the part and acts well, she doesn't blend well with Bennett in songs like the title song, "We Do Not Belong Together" and "Move On."
Noteworthy in the strong supporting cast is Linda Piccone as his mother in Act 1 and an art critic in Act 2.
Many of the design challenges in this show radiate from the coup d'theatre that ends Act 1. That's when the cast and designs gradually move into place to recreate Seurat's painting. Costume designer Robert Horek and lighting designer Michael Rooney play their parts well, as does scenic designer Bruce McLeod. However, FMT's Lohman Theatre is perhaps too small to allow the audience to sit back far enough to get to full effect.
The show hasn't been seen often locally. ACT presented the Bay Area premiere in 1986, followed by TheatreWorks in 1987 and again in 1999.
Patrons who aren't familiar with the show or who want to learn about the cast are advised to arrive early to read that pertinent information in the lobby. Budget constraints presumably prevent FMT from providing it in the program.
Overall, though, director Milissa Carey, her colleagues (including choreographer Amanda Folena) and the performers have created an enjoyable production.
For More Information
Return to Home Page