Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News


"Vincent in Brixton" at the Walnut's Independence Studio, is picture perfect, as befits an engrossing play about the young van Gogh, says critic Toby Zinman.


By Toby Zinman


It’s like watching a novel: all the intimacy, all the language, all the complexity of character, without having to turn a page. Nicholas Wright’s engrossing, prize-winning play about the young van Gogh, Vincent in Brixton, is receiving a just-about-perfect production at the Walnut’s Independence Studio under Kate Galvin’s direction.

Before he became the painter he became, Vincent van Gogh (Brian Cowden, who manages to sound Dutch and crazy and profoundly sweet all at once) lived for a short while in a London boardinghouse. The drama of his landlady (Mary Martello, going from triumph to triumph — this is every bit as fine as her recent performance in Lantern’s Beauty Queen of Leenane), her daughter (Clare Mahoney), her daughter’s boyfriend (John Jarboe), and Vincent’s awful sister Anna (Liz Filios) is Wright’s fictionalized biographical chapter in a life that would change painting forever.

Mrs. Loyer is a profoundly depressed widow whose mission is to inspire the boys in her school, and, eventually, her newest lodger, young Vincent. This is a love story about a middle-aged woman whose black moods when she looked up at the starry night would have an effect that she could not know but that we do. Keep your eye and ear out for intimations of paintings to come.

Besides the exceptionally fine cast — not a weak link, not a false moment — the physical production is superb. Thom Weaver’s atmospheric lighting as well as the set, with its working iron stove and its worn wooden table, seem perfect, as are the props: the Times from 1876, the wicker pram, the old clock. Chris Colucci’s music is haunting. In Act Two, Vincent says: “Let me tell you a story while you’re still in love with me.” And, like Mrs. Loyer, we, too, lean forward.


Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3, Ninth and Walnut Streets, through March 10. Tickets: $30-$40. 215-574-3550 or

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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