Theatre Review: City Theater Company’s Sunday in the Park with George missed the “point”?
When we go see a fully staged musical, usually, we expect to see the end product or a piece that has been full imagined and completed, but Sunday in the Park with George is meant to be a work in process being shared with the audience. The musical is literally about the artistic process, it is a show about making art. The City Theater Company’s production takes that concept and dives even deeper into it. Now, full disclosure: I have never seen Sunday in the Park with George and, other than a few of the songs and the general idea behind the famous painting it’s based on, did not know anything about it. More on that later.
A synopsis of the musical, according to Musical Theatre International: The days leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”, Georges Seurat is struggling to make meaningful art and maintaining a relationship with his lover, Dot. Amid the scorn of the artistic community, Seurat’s artistic ability thrives while his love diminishes. A century later, Seurat’s descendant – named George and also an artist – finds himself burnt out and in search of what artistic path to follow, but he finds the answer to his future in the past.
The show, directed by Michael Gray and Tom Shade, opens on a rather empty stage with the actors at a table with librettos in front of them, reading their lines, with George, played by Brendan Sheehan, sitting in the front row of the audience (on one of the four sides). I was confused at first, but quickly realized that they were setting George up not just as a painter, but as a director, steering the concept into a show about making a show, rather than just a painting. This was an interesting and enticing concept; however, I do not feel that it followed throughout the entire show. All of a sudden, the actors weren’t using their librettos anymore and George wasn’t giving them all that much direction as he did in the first 10-15 minutes of the act. The costumes, by Lauren E. Peters and Kerry Kristine McElrone, in the beginning were all in shades of grey, very monochrome, such as in a blank canvas. Throughout the first act, as brushstrokes were being added to the painting, the costumes artfully grew in color, adding accessories and pieces over top.
The second act lost me a little. It was almost like watching two different shows. The second act jumps ahead a century or so to George’s great grandson, also named George and also an artist, putting his newest work on display but feeling unfulfilled by where his art has taken him and looking for a new path. Other than the character of Marie, played by Jenna Kuerzi,there seemed to be little connection between the first and second act and, to put it bluntly, it got real weird. I had trouble even following what was going on, it just seemed chaotic and disjointed. There is a scene where they are presenting George’s art and each section of the audience had a member of the ensemble handing out examples of what they were talking about but our particular cast member was so over the top and, literally, in our faces that I couldn’t even pay attention to what was going on on the stage or what was being said. However, the woman next to us thought it was hilarious so perhaps it’s just a matter of personal opinion.
I particularly enjoyed Jenna Kuerzi’s stellar performance as Dot/Marie. She was genuine, vulnerable and connected in both roles despite them being about 80 years apart in age. Her voice lends itself to Sondheim’s musical stylings and she glides across stage with such ease, you barely notice her moving. Dylan Geringer and Grace Tarves are hilarious as Celeste #1 and #2. Equally hilarious (and a little bizarre) were Patrick O’Hara and George Tietze as Mr. and Mrs.
I appreciate the experimental nature of this production, but as someone who has never seen the show before, it missed the mark for me. I left not really fully understanding what the show was about. However, theatre is subjective and everyone has their own cup of tea. And, perhaps if I had more knowledge of the show, my experience would have been vastly different. I strongly encourage you to go see Sunday in the Park with George and have your own experience.
Sunday in the Park with George runs at City Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware now through December 16th. http://city-theater.org/