Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Sunday in the Park with George
I wanted to see Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George because I wanted to see a musical about painting, in this case George Seurat's most famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Each person in the picture becomes a character in the drama. I tried to see it in London, but couldn't get a ticket. So here I am in New York and I am finally seeing it.
To be a play this requires enormous technical sophistication. My favorite bit concerned the draperies seen on the stage while the audience files in. George sees them and says, "Too many trees," and one of them immediately leaves. Later his mother complains that her accustomed tree is no more. Films of dogs replace actual dogs, a great theatrical improvement. The projector is the primary actor in a musical about lighting.
It is surprisingly not another Sister Wendy version of art. Art is about seeing. Art is about making your vision real. And this goes for when it is pictures and when it is notes. Have a vision and make it live.
Seurat invented a style of painting and this painting is his most famous example. He is following his vision of making whole pictures out of tiny dots of color. [Coincidence girl friend is called Dot?] He is following his vision. He says that what the girlfriends don't know is that even when he is with them, he is still working on the painting.
I've never been a Sondheim fan, but maybe I was looking from the wrong direction. It seems he is less words and music than he is vision.
The main actors were Daniel Evans, very lively and amusing as George, and Jenna Russell as Dot and Marie. I knew I had seen Jenna Russell before--she just felt familiar--and I have. She was in Guys and Dolls when I saw it in London. She has a very touching, emotional quality. It is a very emotional play.
Here is a sketch for the same painting--the content without the style. I am gradually coming to realize that Sondheim is bringing us ideas more than poetry and music.