Actor,director, choreographer

Award-winning play centers on young Van Gogh

January 25, 2006

It's winter in England, but he's walked two hours to follow her home. His hair is fiery red, a symbol, perhaps, of his passion.  He goes by Vincent - just Vincent - because it is difficult for the English to pronounce his last name.  Eventually this socially inept Dutchman will become a legendary painter, a household name and a troubled soul who eventually takes his own life.

But the play "Vincent in Brixton," opening Friday at the University of Florida, paints another picture of Vincent Van Gogh, bringing us back to England, where the young man is pursuing another passion - the attention of Eugenie Loyer.

A 2003 Olivier Award winner written by Nicholas Wright, this is a drama with humorous edges. Loosely based on what is known of Van Gogh in the 1870s, the play depicts his life as an art dealer south of London and, more importantly, his complicated relationships within the Loyer family.

"The play has a very delicate touch to it," said director and UF professor David Young. Therefore, it is being staged in the cozy Black Box Theatre nestled next to the larger Constans Theatre, offering a more intimate, voyeuristic invitation into this tangled love story.

The story tells of Van Gogh (pronounced fun-GOK), played by Matthew Lindsay, and his immediate infatuation for Eugenie (Sara Weston). Fueled by adoration, Van Gogh follows the young girl and, after a fervent confession of love, convinces Eugenie's widowed mother, Ursula (Kate Kertez), to let him rent a room in their home.

"He's a very stormy fellow," Eugenie says of Vincent.

But the girl's heart secretly belongs to Sam Plowman (Robert Smith), a fellow lodger and budding artist.

"Sam's the breath of light in the house," Smith said. Many of the play's comedic touches surround his interactions with the naively tactless Vincent and his boisterous sister, Anna Van Gogh (Elizabeth Arnold).

The play is marked by intense monologues of love, art and the passion for both.

"It's a very serious comedy," Young said. "It's about real people, but people are amusing."

Wright portrays Vincent as a "very human, vulnerable man," Young said, one an audience can relate to. In fact, Young contends, audiences may find a little of themselves in all five characters, from the austere widow to the ambitious Plowman.

"They're kind of a cross-section of humanity," he said.