Ear or no ear, the blend of music and Van Gogh’s life and art as presented by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century is a highly unusual venture. Writer Eve Wolf’s vision is a very different take on the renowned artist. The result is more of an elegy than a drama, with expert musicians and vocalists blending with Carter Hudson’s performance as Vincent van Gogh to make an exotic conception of art as something to be listened to as well as visualized.
As the painter, Hudson’s interpretation of the dialogue, based on the artist’s letters, is rather emotionless. He talks of his demons, but his demeanor doesn’t reflect the inner turmoil that he is describing, even when he is confined to a mental hospital for treatment. When he emerges with a bandage covering blood from the mutilated ear, which he carries, the appearance doesn’t have the dramatic impact that it should have.
What makes a more profound impression is the playing of compositions by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson and César Franck. The musicians are excellent—Henry Wang and Yuval Herz, violins; Chieh-Fan Yiu, viola; Timotheos Petrin, cello, and Max Barros and Renana Gutman, pianists. Renée Tatum and Chad Johnson are in superb voice in the roles they assume.
Under the direction of Donald T. Sanders, the production has a haunting quality, but its lack of intense drama can make the effect at times soporific. Apart from the music, the most striking aspect is the projection of van Gogh’s art, whether on differently positioned panels or on the artist’s easel. Projection designer David Bengali has done a superb job in integrating the art with the music and acting.
The pathos of the artists life and the support of his brother Theo (Johnson) do come through in this low-key approach. But it would help if there were more sparks to the enterprise. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed August 18, 2017.