Aleasha Hintz—Staff Writer
Vincent Van Gogh was an extraordinary artist. Even today, his work holds its prominence. Starry Night is still among one of the most recognizable pieces of art history. The artist, however, is usually remembered as just that: an incredible artist, and maybe even a man who cut off his own ear. But in reality, Van Gogh led a misunderstood and deeply emotional life. Break of Day, by Stephen Fife, tells his story.
Break of Day takes place in the early 1880’s and follows Vincent through major events in his lifetime. Namely, his time spent as a preacher in a mining town in Belgium, his return home, his decision to pursue a career as an artist, and his misplaced love for his cousin, Kay. The show’s script showcases the depths of Vincent’s emotions: both his love for the people around him and the deep anguish that seemed to plague him.
The passionate nature of the show demanded much from the cast—especially from the roles of Vincent, his parents, and Kay. These roles were played by Nicholas Schnell, Aaron Medberry, Sarah Holmberg, and Brittany Bloemhof respectively. All of the cast performed well, but Vincent’s character proved captivating. He was easily swept up in fits of romance, at one point actually twirling around the stage. Still, this was but one small portion of his character. Vincent would also experience moments where he wasn’t quite lucid, and Schnell portrayed the confusion in the character quite well.
The actors also took on the unusual challenge of acting with face masks. The white masks used a clear panel that allowed the actor’s expressions to be seen. Initially, the masks present on the actors felt a little jarring, but the feeling disappeared quickly as the actors did their best to project through the masks. Some had trouble with the masks pressing on their face or sliding up, though it was not too distracting from the show.
The show, directed by Kaitlyn Baljeu, was squeezed in just before the start of Dordt’s early winter break. It was produced for three nights on November 19, 20, and 21 in Dordt’s very own Fourth Avenue Theatre. Though the show went well, its black box format proved to cause some difficulties for the set design.
In its nature, a black box theatre caters to shows requiring few set pieces and props, something true of Break of Day. Still, the multiple locations featured in the show meant that no matter how simple the design, set changes were needed. In Break of Day, these set changes proved awkward with long and sometimes distracting durations during the first act. The crew handled these periods quite professionally, though and the classical music played in between scenes was delightful.
The set design itself was beautifully done and clearly designed for quick changes. In act one, a faux mound served as the entrance to a mine. Later on, a door and a table or couch was enough to recreate the Van Gogh residence. To sum it up- the set design held practical, with the exception of one permanent feature on stage: a tree. The looming object used the familiar palette and brushstrokes of Vincent Van Gogh. Blues, browns, oranges, and greens decorated the cutout, and added a rather whimsical creation to the stage
What really helped to liven up the sparse set design were the various props littered on the desks, placed on the table, and hung on the walls. Vincent’s desk was often rather messy, which revealed a little of the disorganized, even chaotic, nature in the man. But one prop in the design caught my eye- a replica of Van Gogh’s painting: The Potato Eaters. The painting features a peasant family eating dinner together, with the muse for one face being revealed at the end of the show. The painting was rather impressive- at least from the audience- and was done by the students in the art department.
But there was more to the show than stylistic set pieces and striking paintings. This show proved that lighting design can be an art as well. It used many reds, greens, and blues, which created a stage often rather dark. This was fitting of the play’s overall mood, and proved tasteful. During more intense moments, the lights burst in a flashing red, but during romantic moments the light itself seemed to swell with warmth.
The show was beautifully done and tugged at the audience’s heart strings. The acting combined with the technical design and the professionalism of the run crew resulted in a striking show. This was the second time that the theatre department found a way to safely produce a show, and hopefully it won’t be the last.