Golden Theatre

Everyone has seen Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, those swirling, thickly-pigmented canvases filled with sunflowers, soulful faces and starry night skies. But what do we really know about Van Gogh's life, especially his early life when he first discovered he wanted to paint?

In various films, Van Gogh has been depicted as a cliched epitome of a tortured genius, but in Lincoln Center Theater's production of the new play VINCENT IN BRIXTON, author Nicholas Wright presents Van Gogh as he genuinely might have been: raw, ruthless, naive, tactless and comically direct.

Wright starts with the historical fact that Van Gogh went to live in Brixton, a London suburb, in 1873 at the age of 20. He had moved from his native Holland to work in the London office of an international art-dealing firm; this was no stepping stone to a life as an artist, however. Van Gogh had three uncles who were art dealers, and he was simply being groomed for a middle-class career in the family tradition.

Vincent rented a room in the house of a young widow named Ursula Loyer and her adult daughter Eugenie. Wright speculates that Van Gogh fell in love with both women, but it was his affair with Mrs. Loyer that was a life-altering experience in a journey that ultimately ended with mental breakdown, death and immortality.

His intriguing scenario uses information gleaned from letters written by Van Gogh and his family as a stepping-off point. "I was encouraged by an intriguing six-month gap in Vincent's surviving letters and by the well-known tendency of young men writing home to be less than frank about their most formative experiences," said Wright. The play traces the transforming effects of love, sex and youthful adventure on Van Gogh's still-unformed talent.

Vincent In Brixton went from the small Cottesloe auditorium at the National to an extended run on the West End, and Sir Richard Eyre, who previously directed David Hare's Racing Demon for LCT, brought his acclaimed production to New York for a limited engagement, complete with the play's original London stars: Clare Higgins (who won the Evening Standard Award for her performance) and a terrific newcomer, Jochum ten Haaf, in the lead roles.