Based on text by Adeline Ravoux, Adapted by Walter DeForest; Directed by Laurence Lowry
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.30.15
VENUE #12: 64E4 UNDERGROUND, 64 East 4th Street
by Ryan Rodgers on 8.26.15
Walter Michael DeForest as Vincent Van Gogh in Van Gogh Fuck Yourself.
BOTTOM LINE: Based on Van Gogh's letters and the memoirs of Adeline Ravoux, this one man show features a central performance of great emotional range.
Upon walking into the theatre at 64E4 Underground, one is confronted with the artist (Walter Michael DeForest as Vincent Van Gogh) already at work on stage, doing sketches of the room and, as the audience fills in, its inhabitants. Once the show starts, DeForest morphs from character to character, non-linearly illustrating key points and people in Van Gogh’s life. Van Gogh’s various relationships with family and loved ones (particularly with his brother Theo), in conjunction with observations from many of the more influential people he encountered throughout his lifetime, serve to provide background for explanations of both his artwork and the more monumental milestones in his life. The most prominent of these being the loss of his ear and his untimely death.
The theater itself provides a challenging layout with chairs along two adjoining sides of the rectangular playing space, but DeForest is able to adapt to it quite well, engaging his audience on both fronts and adeptly encouraging participation at key moments. Having seen self-portraits of Van Gogh in art museums and books, it is easy to recognize the resemblance. DeForest is a strong performer with great emotional depth. He's clearly connected with his characters, Vincent and his brother Theo in particular, and the inner turmoil he experiences in each role is rich and engaging.
Unfortunately, however, DeForest’s talent cannot completely overcome an unfocused script and a lack of clear direction. The story is made more confusing by muddy transitions between various characters that, in most cases, are marked by nothing more than a brief dimming of the lights. The accents also detract rather than enhance the performance, not because the Dutch or French accents aren't believable (and I enjoy the inclusion of certain French phrases,) but rather because some characters are (arbitrarily it seems) given accents and some are not, making some changes in character far more distinguishable than others. DeForest is so perfectly Vincent that without a specific costume alteration or distinct production element signifying transformation it can be confusing as to who is speaking and it's hard to say how many characters are portrayed.
The play seems to be more focused on delivering separate historical anecdotes rather than a cohesive message or linear life story of Van Gogh. While I realize that the piece is based on letters and memoirs, perhaps a more purposeful organization of them would allow DeForest’s talents as a performer the opportunity to truly shine. That aside, DeForest is a skilled actor who provides the audience with glimpses of his excellent emotional range and I hope he continues to refine and hone this interesting piece.
(Van Gogh Fuck Yourself plays at VENUE #12: 64E4 UNDERGROUND, 64 East 4th Street, through August 30, 2015. Performances are Mon 8/24 at 3:30; Tue 8/25 at 5; Thu 8/27 at 8:45; Fri 8/28 at 7; and Sun 8/30 at 12:30. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit www.vangoghfuckyourself.com.)