Theatre Review: Red Herring Revives With Leonard Nimoy’s Homage to ‘Vincent’
Red Herring returns to in-person entertainment in its terrific storefront space with a crowd-pleaser of another era, Vincent, Leonard Nimoy’s 1981 one-person homage to Vincent Van Gogh through the eyes of his brother Theo, directed by Michael Herring and with both parts played by Stefan Langer.
Langer assails the highpoints of Van Gogh’s adult life through Theo in a stirring, volcanic performance. Occasionally the inflection changes to indicate that now Vincent is talking get a little uneven, but the body language shifts and the subtle variances to indicate the artist’s mental state and degree of illness are striking.
Herring’s sense of the space and dynamics also keep the 90-minute one act from becoming static, bouncing Langer through Herring’s simple and elegant set in a way that implies the late 19th century Paris and Netherlands the brothers inhabit. Projectors at either side of the space also provide not only visual interest but emotional and historical grounding, with some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings as well as images of sketches and letters. Seeing the character’s handwriting vibrates against Langer’s work in a satisfying, layered way.
There’s no way around how dated the material is. Vincent is very of its time, every point gets underlined and belabored, worst of all in an extended series of fake-out endings where Theo describes his brother’s last day and their bedside and the wake and the time at the graveside. Sometimes that repetition lands and everything opens up – a remarkable retelling of Vincent’s time as a preacher ministering to coal miners – but too often it’s just more of the same.
Similarly, the transition sequences where Langer leaves the stage and paintings scroll through the projections – throughout, the subtle and delicate lighting of Kurt Mueller and Jesse Charles’ three-dimensional sound design are stunning – can be too long. There’s a fine line between letting us soak in what an artist Van Gogh was in the midst of all his personal turmoil and padding. The sequence where Langer stays on stage, staring at one screen from a desk chair hit the right emotional notes and bounced off an excellent earlier tirade where Langer’s Theo implicated the audience directly, but a couple others overstayed their welcome.
It’s to Herring and Langer’s credit that Vincent is as moving, gripping, and funny as it is. Your appreciation will hinge on your love of the source material and your taste for this brand of late-’70s/early-’80s psychological drama. I rarely comment on the physical quality of the audience experience – sound was good, sightlines were fine, everything that I needed to enjoy the performance – but I would advise dressing lightly and purchasing a bottle of water at the concession stand, the performance I saw was sticky.
Vincent runs through July 25 at 3723 S. High St., with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, please visit redherringtheater.org.