Chicago Tribune review by Chris Jones
The appeal of Nicholas Wright's "Vincent in Brixton" rests
on an intriguing aesthetic question. Does the ordinary early
life of a famous person become inherently interesting just
because the person turned out to be a genius later in life?
It should be noted that this play has been exceptionally well produced by the always-reliable Apple Tree Theatre. I saw the show in its Broadway production in 2003 (intriguingly, it featured Liesel Matthews, of Pritzker family fame) and not only is the talky piece better served by Apple Tree's more intimate auditorium, but Kurt Johns' production is rather smarter and considerably more truthful.
The show is well-paced, right-headed and credible within the British milieu. Rich and detailed, the realistic setting from Keith Pitts serves the work exceptionally well.
chicagocritic.com reviews by Tom Williams and Brandon Hayes Apple Tree Theatre's selection of Nicholas Wright's award winning 2003 play, Vincent in Brixton, was a wise choice. Featuring expertly written characters sketches and a coming of age theme, the play gives us a glimpse of the early Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) before the maddening mental illness over took him. Based on know facts of Vincent's early days when he worked for an art dealer in London and letters he wrote to his family, Vincent in Brixton is a seamlessly smooth play featuring two powerful personalities that engages us from the start. Christopher McLinden's boyish charm and Lisa Dodson's graceful elegance produce a dynamic connection.This is a smart show beautifully directed with a strong cast. Don't miss it. Highly Recommended!
Romanticizing the life of artists is a risky undertaking. Attempting to explain the art of the Western canon through quirks of biography is often reductionist and rarely stimulating. Luckily, the Van Gogh we know, and the idea of him we bring with us to the theatre, is hardly present. There are tantalizing moments of reference to the art that would come much later (a flower blossom border in the house's kitchen recalls Van Gogh's 1890 painting, Almond Blossoms and his boots become the study for sketches…a subject explored on canvas in 1887 and 1888). But generally, the early artistic process of the man who would become Van Gogh is left offstage.
The work here done by the entire cast, but particularly the two leads in concert with director, Kurt Johns, is stellar. The performances are nuanced and convincing without being sentimental. The set design is meticulous. The lighting design is evocative. Recommended
Pioneer Press review by Robert Loerzel As told in Nicholas Wright's play, directed by Kurt Johns at Apple Tree Theatre, Van Gogh began finding his way toward his distinctive artistic style during the time he spent as a young man at a London boarding house in 1873. He really did go to England to work for an art dealer, but whether he fell in love with an older woman and received critical lessons on art and life is another matter.
Wright's play is not persuasive as history, but the interactions among its characters are interesting to watch. The script and this production have a good sense of humor, as well as some tender moments and vivid confrontations. The play is flawed, but this is a good production, with a nice set by Keith Pitts and a fine cast of actors.
Sun-Times review by Hedy Weiss Inspired by suggestive if not entirely verifiable events that occurred from 1873 to 1876, Wright chronicles a brief but crucial May-December romance between Van Gogh (Christopher McLinden) and his landlady Ursula Loyer (a smart, sensual Lisa Dodson). Kurt Johns, a Chicago-bred actor-turned-producer director, has gathered a fine cast. It is McLinden who makes this a must-see show. This young actor, seen earlier this season in the Writers' Theatre's "Seagull," has a face any painter would want to draw, and his reddish hair makes him a natural as Van Gogh. But it is his rare talent for living onstage in a way that is both utterly true and hugely dynamic -- for combining a raw energy and a sophisticated intelligence -- that is the real key to his portrayal. An added bolt of electricity comes with the arrival of Vincent's younger sister, Anna (Mattie Hawkinson, one of the city's most gifted young actresses), whose Dutch sense of order and propriety clash head-on with the Loyers' bohemianism.
Chicago Reader review by Nick Green The dank kitchen setting and pivotal thunderstorm seem allusions to Wuthering Heights , and references to Dickens and George Eliot abound in his literate script. But suspension of disbelief is a must given the torrid affair Wright posits between van Gogh and his boardinghouse proprietor. The sexual mores here are more in keeping with a Harlequin romance than a Victorian novel; still, kudos to Wright for portraying a May-December relationship that isn't rooted in oedipal perversion. Director Kurt Johns shows a keen eye for blocking, and his staging has a sweeping, cinematic feel that underscores Wright's attempts to frame his play as a populist love story for the ages. It should be the feel-good hit of the winter--and I mean this without cynicism. Bring plenty of tissues.
Daily Herald review by Barbara Vitello The well-acted production that opened this week at Apple Tree Theatre benefits from sincere, perceptive performances, thoughtful direction from Kurt Johns, a comfortably rustic Victorian set by designer Keith Pitts and handsome period costumes by Patti Roeder.
The play, partly inspired by the artist's short-lived career as an associate art dealer, takes place in London in 1873. It opens with Vincent (Christopher McLinden, a delight as the impetuous, affably awkward 20-year-old son of a Dutch minister) inquiring about renting a room from Ursula Loyer (the great Lisa Dodson delivering a polished performance), a liberal widow whose Brixton home doubles as a day school for young boys. [Vincent and Ursula] begin an affair, during which Ursula nurtures and encourages her maturing lover's budding genius. The change in Vincent alarms his parents, who send sister Anna (played with shrill self-righteousness by Mattie Hawkinson), to extricate her brother from the woman they believe is keeping him from pursuing a career as an artist.
Apple Tree's production succeeds thanks to a winning cast whose sensitivitiy and conviction make this a delicacy worth tasting.
Gay Chicago Magazine review by Emily Lee Apple Tree's delightful offering is the perfect marriage of high production quality and a superbly written script. Garnering the 2003 Olivier Award for best new play and a Tony nomination for best play on Broadway, Nicholas Wright's coming of age story is an imaginative telling of Vincent Van Gogh's early years in London . Director Kurt Johns treats his audience to a multisensory delight, using set designer Keith Pitt's beautifully realized rendition of a pastoral London kitchen to the fullest extent. Delicious smells emanate from Ursula's oven almost constantly as tempting bits of herbs tantalize in a window. There is a deliberate sense of hush lilting through the air as important moments are given their due. This is not lost on light designer David Ferguson , and he never allows a harsh moment to intrude upon Johns' quiet. Some very fine performances are added to the mix as Christopher McLinden and Lisa Dodson (Van Gogh and Ursula) both turn in topnotch work. Dodson is better here than I have ever seen her, trusting Wright's intelligent script to carry her through. However, we must credit McLinden's charming Vincent for much of Dodson's performance. All an actress really has to do is let him in. And let him in she does, sharing a sensual chemistry as strong as one will find anywhere. They are supported by a capable Erica Elam and always wonderful Gregory Isaac as Eugenie and her lover, Sam, a working man with dreams of becoming an artist. (****)