TIO NYC: Que Seurat, Seurat+
“Sunday in the Park with George,” through April 23 at the Hudson Theatre. Seurat’s Circus Sideshow at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 29. “The Theatre of Disappearance” occupies the Met’s roof garden through October 29, 2017.
He is a Hollywood insider whose film credits include “Nocturnal Animals,” “Nighcrawler,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Southpaw,” “Jarhead,” “Proof,” “October Sky,” “Love & Other Drugs,” “Life.”
He has appeared Off-Broadway in “Encores!,” “Little Shop of Horrors,””Constellations,” “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet,” “This Is Our Youth” – and “Sunday in the Park with George,” also his Broadway debut.
And Jake Gyllenhaal as the obsessive, brooding, prickly, and prototypically long-suffering artist George (Seurat), is once again proving he is as adroit and engaging on stage as on screen, with pipes as powerful and resonant as his acting chops.
Sacrificed on the altar of his art is George’s model Dot – the name a obvious parody of the George’s vaunted technique– Tony Award-winner Annaleigh Ashford, alternately comical, sweet and vulnerable, but always startlingly candid and real.
This simply gorgeous production is a variation on the theme of a tableau vivant, a living, breathing painting based on the artist’s most famous canvas, ”A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” That huge painting shows a crowd of bourgeois 19th-century Parisians relaxing in a park on their day off – but it was also a manifesto by an artist in revolt against Impressionist’s spontaneity. Atomizing color into thousands of tiny dots, Seurat applied scientific visual principles to art, reflecting the artist’s affinity for austerity and rigor and not just in his work. Hence Dot’s pain. Work, not love, defines Seurat. Rather, his work is his love.
In “Sunday,” Gyllenhaal and Ashford own the limelight, but they are supported by a pitch-perfect ensemble, all of whom become Seurat’s models (so their lives matter little beyond their roles in the painting): Seurat’s mother (Penny Fuller a battle axe on the outside; marshmallow inside); her long-suffering nurse; a practicing, pipe-smoking curmudgeon; two soldiers; two chatty, flirty shop-girls; an art critic (Jules Christophe), his wife and their an daughter; Louis the Baker with whom Dot makes a strategic match, and two clichéd American tourists, rude and way too rich Philistines.
The Pulitzer-winning musical by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine premiered 33 years ago in 1984, but lovingly, artfully directed by Sarna Lapine, niece of James, this revival retains the power of the original: it stirs the heart and engages the head with its radiant score and a brainy, unfading story about the art of making art – and love.
“Genius! This fervent, enticing production reveals something all-too-rare: an abiding faith in the powers of art,” Edward Rothstein, The Wall Street Journal.
“Sondheim’s soaring score sounds marvelous. Sunday’s emotional climax brings tears,” David Cote, Time Out New York.
“Every once in a rare while, the theater rewards us with a kind of transcendent experience, a feeling that this, surely, will never happen again – at least not remotely in the same way. My once-in-a-lifetime theory is being crushed – exquisitely, rapturously – right now as Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford step up alongside Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the treasured place where I keep memories of the original “Sunday in the Park With George.” They are that good,” Linda Winer, Newsday.
“Jake Gyllenhaal is radiant. His searing theatrical presence and unwavering focus seems to consume and illuminate the dark. He has a voice of richly flexible timbre that confidently elicits the most delicate shades of passion and despair,” Ben Brantley, The New York Times.
“The luminous Annaleigh Ashford delivers a performance with both gorgeous precision and spontaneous warmth matched by her eloquent singing.” Ben Brantley, The New York Times.
In life, in the production, George Seurat defined his challenge as bringing order to the whole through design, composition, tension, balance, light, and harmony.
In a case of life imitating art, the musical “Sunday in the Park with George” pulls that elusive rabbit out of the very hat Seurat was finding so daunting to paint.
Seurat at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Georges Seurat is chiefly remembered as the pioneer of the Neo-Impressionist technique known as Divisionism, or Pointillism, an approach associated with a softly flickering surface of small dots or strokes of color. His innovations derived from new, quasi-scientific theories about color and expression rendered in his graceful forms. Initially at least, Seurat believed that great modern art would show contemporary life in ways similar to classical art, except that it would use technologically informed techniques.
Seurat’s success was short-lived. After a short decade of mature work, he died at the age of only 31. However, his innovations were highly influential, shaping the work of artists as diverse as Vincent Van Gogh and the Italian Futurists. Paintings like Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884) became widely popular icons.
We bookended the “Sunday” matinee with a mandatory trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see more Seurat, this time his “Circus Sideshow,” on display through May.
Painted by Seurat in 1888, “Circus Sideshow” depicts what the French called a parade, a stage where entertainers performed for free to draw audiences into a tent where they would pay for entertainment– generally after being pick-pocketed.
The galleries downstairs at the Lehman Wing of the Met are filled with posters, caricatures, and books depicting images of the lower classes, including circus performers, some by the irreverent Honoré Daumier.
Like any artist, Seurat was drawn to this potent cocktail of color, movement, and noise, but he dignified rather than satirized the saltimbanques by depicting them in subtle shades as eloquently mute forms.
From the museum’s description:
Taking as its focus one of The Met’s most captivating masterpieces, this thematic exhibition affords a unique context for appreciating the heritage and allure of Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), painted in 1887–88 by Georges Seurat (1859–1891). Anchored by a remarkable group of related works by Seurat that fully illuminates the lineage of the motif in his inimitable conté crayon drawings, the presentation explores the fascination the sideshow subject held for other artists in the nineteenth century, ranging from the great caricaturist Honoré Daumier at mid-century to the young Pablo Picasso at the fin de siècle.
This rich visual narrative unfolds in a provocative display of more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, period posters, and illustrated journals, supplemented by musical instruments and an array of documentary material intended to give a vivid sense of the seasonal fairs and traveling circuses of the day. Among the highlights is Fernand Pelez’s epic Grimaces and Misery—The Saltimbanques (Petit Palais, Paris), of exactly the same date as Seurat’s magisterial work and, with its lifesize performers aligned in friezelike formation across a 20-foot stage, a match for his ambition.
Also at the Met, “The Theatre of Disappearance”:
On yet another beautiful spring day, we visited the Met’s recently opened roof garden, where Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas has created a beguiling site-specific surreal installation, built from billions of laser measurements and photographs to create 3D printed models. The idea is for the visitor to meander through history of humankind, which the artist depicts as a fusion of past and present as if time were circular.
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