By The Theatre Gay
Our perception is more than just the light that hits our eyes. Every moment, our brain is filling in the cracks between the specks of light, making connections, creating things that may or may not be there. We each have our own perception, and sometimes, it’s very difficult to get people to see what you see. And this is the crux of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, currently being performed at Signature Theatre in Arlington.
As we step into the theatre, we’re transported back into the studio of George Seurat (Claybourne Elder), painter of the Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and father of Pointilism. Scattered about the stage, we can see George’s sketches, mostly of his lover and star model Dot (Brynn O’Malley). Each Sunday, George and Dot head out to the park on La Grande Jatte to paint the colorful (yet unaware) ensemble. His obsession over his painting ultimately leads to the disintegration of his relationship with Dot. Fast-forward about a hundred years, and we meet another artist named George (also played by Elder) who’s the descendent (it’s fuzzy) of Seurat and Dot. What we see unfold becomes a cross generational piece on the importance of looking all told through aural pointillism.
Directed by Matthew Gardiner, Sunday is one of the most visually stunning shows I’ve seen at Signature. The space is designed beautifully by Daniel Conway, starting with a hum-drum grey that explodes with color by the end. Juxtaposed perfectly are Frank Labovitz’s gorgeously textured costumes, which evoke Seurat’s pointillism without aping it. And it is all brought into focus with Jennifer Schriever’s lighting design which energizes the picture without overwhelming you. What we have here is a brilliant display of design on all parts, perfectly orchestrated, and perfectly executed.
The acting ain’t bad either. Brynn O’Malley shines with cheerful optimism as Dot. However, where she’s most effective, is in Act two, where she plays the young artist’s grandmother, Marie. With precision, and control, she perfectly contorts her body into that of a frail 92-year-old, without (from what I could tell) a speck of makeup. Claybourne Elder gives an admirable performance as both Georges, however, he was put in a difficult position. It’s hard to connect to the audience when the character you are playing has their own problems connecting. There were certainly some standouts from the ensemble as well, specifically Donna Migliaccio and Valerie Leonard.
As pretty as a picture, Sunday in the Park with George is only on exhibit at the Signature Theatre until September 21st. What’s more, there’s a cool session they’re doing on Impressionism with the Phillips Collection of September 5th. Go check it out!