Friday, November 26, 2021

Not So Starry, Starry Night for Van Gough in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house”

When we think of Vincent van Gough, we think of beautiful sunflowers in full bloom and in different phases of ageing, post impression landscapes, and still life’s, oil paintings, (about one hundred sixty that we know of) portraits, and self -portraits, to say the least. His art is world renowned, and priceless. We know that now. But in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house” now in a world premiere production currently at The La Jolla Playhouse through Dec. 12th , sunflowers and the like were the last things on his mind.

Unfortunately for van Gough he suffered through long dark periods of depression and self- doubt.  He was plagued by every negative force that came his way throughout his life especially in the period, two years before his death in 1890, when he was searching in vain for new beginnings while living with his beloved brother and best friend Theo in the yellow house in Paris that Theo rented for the two of them. 

Brooke Ishibashi, Deidra Henry and Paco Tolson

Lee wrote the play after she read “van Gough: The Life”. “For me, this play is about somebody on a journey of figuring out “how do I do this thing that everyone keeps telling me I can’t do?” “The time structure that exists in the play-it’s essentially a memory play-….”

In a two plus hour homage to van Gough, director Neel Keller and Lee trace his tracks from his arrival in Paris at the yellow house and follows his struggles to begin anew and find himself. van Gough hopes, with the help of his brother Theo who is an art dealer, he might get a leg up to show his dark and lackluster paintings but Theo offers nothing but negative comments about his paintings. Frankie J. Alvarez as Theo, Vincent's loving brother who provides financial support is a study in stability, the complete opposite of his brother's instability.

van Gough looks for companionship and friendship from like-minded friends like Paul Gauguin, (Marco Barricilli) and Emile Bernard (DeLeon Dallas).  Through it all Gauguin would be his long lasting friend while the other two were more hail fellow well met friends yet bring some much needed humor to their roles.

Frankie J. Alvarez and Paco Tolson

Deidre Henry is an outstanding Agostina, Vincent’s par amour, Café owner and biggest fan and Brooke Ishibashi is a baker in progress at the café and the first contact Vincent makes when he ventures into town. The seven member ensemble adds more depth and humor to the struggles of Van Gough’s already unsettled life. 

Takeshi Kata’s -two tiered set gives way to dark scapes across the entire stage, with the intent of the audience seeing what Van Gough sees. “I want you to feel what I feel and see what I. see”.

David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are period are right with some color to the overall darkness especially on the women’s costumes. Palmer Hefferan’s sound design, Nicholas Hussongs realistic projections, Masha Tsimring’s lighting, and Alberto “Albee Alvarado wigs and Justin Ellington’s original music fits in with the mood of the story. They all add up to a realistic look and are true to the vision of the playwright's work.

Paco Tolson 

With a strong cast and a steadily convincing, overly morbid and grouchy to a fault Paco Tolson as Vincent, the production tends to be repetitive and depressing, in tune and tone with the moods of van Gough. With tightening and some culling “to the yellow house” will be a find in the annals of serious, historical and educational drama.   

Hat’s off to Kimber Lee for showing us a part of the determination that resides in us all. van Gough never lived to see his masterpieces. He continued to sketch and paint until the very end when he was destitute and finally took his own life, but he never gave up pursuing his dream. 

As a nice touch, volunteers were giving out sunflower masks to the audience. 

‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Shows Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.


Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.

Photos: Rich Soublet II

 ‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Ticket information:

Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.


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