Vincent John Doe, a new play by Charleston artist, playwright and actor, Robert Maniscalco was presented the final weekend of the 2019 Piccolo Spoleto Festival* at the Cannon Street Arts Center, home of PURE Theatre (134 Cannon Street, Charleston).
The four performances were June 6, 7, 8 & 9. They were very well received. I have added some of the audience comments to the Testimonials, below. In process, is a film adaptation of the theatrical performance. More on that later. Now exploring future productions outside of Charleston.
MEDIA Program Description for listings:
Enjoy a fascinating visit with Vincent Van Gogh, who is caught in a time vortex and sees firsthand the impact his work has had on the world of today. Acclaimed performer and visionary artist Robert Maniscalco brings Vincent to life, even painting a couple “Van Goghs” right before our very eyes. Get into the brilliant mind of one of the greatest artists the world has ever known in this multi-disciplinary, interactive theatre production, integrating live music (piano, violin and voice) with live painting into a unique and deeply moving, immersive creative experience.
Playwright Robert Maniscalco and Dramaturg/Director Barbara Pitcher, who is traveling from New York City to direct, continue their collaboration on VJD. The play enjoyed three magical “Concert” performances at City Gallery in Charleston, as part of the 2018 Piccolo Spoleto Festival, where it was met with lots of laughs, tears and standing ovations. Also, the play earned some fantastic audience responses.
The 2019 production was graced with a stellar cast. Performers included top Charleston actors Kevin Cooper Ray, Lorilyn Harper, David Hallett and Susan Hallett, Fred Hutter, Brooke Mogy Watkins, Bradly Tarr, Anthony Parenti, Mary Maniscalco and Rob Maniscalco as Vincent. Live musicians are integral to the show. The 2018 and 2019 productions both featured Danny Maniscalco (violin) and James Maniscalco (piano), performing classic music as well as new music composed for the show by the playwright. Each performance also featured two “Van Gogh” paintings, created live on stage, making VJD a completely new theatrical experience.
The action of Vincent John Doe, an original full length (120 minutes), multi-media play, follows Vincent, as he is being committed to a mental hospital, fighting for his “truth.” It is not a biopic, but rather a fantasy love story around the character of Van Gogh, set in a modern context, borrowing heavily from Vincent’s own words. “It’s sort of an Alice in Wonderland where the wonderland is us,” says playwrite, Rob Maniscalco.
We never quite know for sure if this character really is Van Gogh or just another delusional. As Vincent longs for a return to his own time he finds he must also fight for validation in the present. The more Vincent insists upon his identity the more trouble ensues. Eventually, he comes to realize the battle over his identity is not the real issue he must face. Meanwhile, as the audience wonders whether the play is a piece of science fiction or a psychological thriller, they have become embroiled in a high stakes existential battle about the real meaning of freedom, identity and truth.
Vincent John Doe started with the question, “What if Van Gogh were to somehow show up today, in NYC?” As one might expect, people would immediately assume he is “crazy.” That is where VJD begins. Vincent is petitioned into a mental facility for evaluation and treatment. As he navigates today’s mental health system he encounters therapists and fellow patients who make him, and us, question the “crazy artist” paradigm. Once he escapes “the system” he becomes an overnight sensation and his talent and adamant assertion that he is the real Van Gogh is exploited by a cynical art world. But his connection with Angel, the floor nurse in the hospital turns into something more than he ever expected.
VJD examines the question of how our society has come to define mental illness. The play explores the differences between mental illness and the artistic temperament and what to do with those who refuse to conform to behaviors we consider “normal.” The play explores the meaning of identity and the role of ego. It challenges our relationship with God and the courage it takes to speak to the world through one’s art. What is the burden and responsibility of the artist, in terms of truth? Does truth even matter anymore in today’s society? What is the place of the artist in the world of commerce? And what is the true measure of his success?
The play explores these important themes while telling a compelling story about love and redemption. Robert says, “the important thing is we are getting people talking about truth, alt truth, identity, the meaning of insanity, the cost of fame, authenticity and artistic purity, the nature of existence, the commodification of art, the responsibility of the artist, overcoming creative blocks, childhood trauma and of course, the creative process itself.”
VJD is a deep reexamination of the character of Van Gogh, who has been marginalized by our society as the ultimate “crazy artist.” Here, using his own letters as source material, VJD mines the depth of the great artist’s thinking, bringing to light his great insight and wisdom.
One unique feature of VJD is that it requires the actor playing Van Gogh to create two actual Van Gogh paintings in real time, during the course of each performance, blurring the lines between the theatre and visual art disciplines. The world premiere “concert” production featured renowned Charleston artist/actor Robert Maniscalco painting in the style of the great art legend. He and six other local actors performed all the roles.
Production notes: The design concept requires minimal set components. Light, sound effects and projections create most of the changes in scenery and mood. Production elements and costs are minimal enough to make it easy to produce. The venue requirements are flexible but VJD does work better basic lighting and sound facilities.
An invitation to producers: The unique, multi-disciplinary nature of the play’s structure, the high profile notoriety of the subject himself, the compelling ideas, pertinent contemporary issues and intriguing story line make it the perfect offering for any cutting edge intimate theatre venue. VJD pushes the limits of the multi-disciplinary genre without going broke.
At first, VINCENT VAN GOGH is what we might expect of the great artist, who believes he has been transported to the future. He is disoriented but addement in his convictions and intentions. Is he really who he says he is or just another delusional? Is anyone really who they think they are? The real existential question for Van Gogh, however, is not who he is but why he is here? VJD is a portrait of the thoughtful, insightful man behind the legendary “mad genius.”
DR KEN FISHER is a published psychiatrist who has developed idiosyncratic methods to help delusional patients in finding their true identity. Though he is never convinced that he is sitting across from the actual Vincent Van Gogh, he is hard-pressed to accomplish his goal of convincing his patient.
MS. MINDA is an ardent art therapist who believes sincerely in the power of creativity to unblock those struggling with mental illness, even someone as far gone as Vincent seems to be. She has absolute faith in art as the key to breaking through to the truth.
RONNIE is a fellow patient. He is a brilliant sociopath with a sardonic wit, troubled by anger, who seems to have a remarkable grasp of reality, as long as it conforms to his skewed world view. If not, it is fake news and must be destroyed.
ANGEL is a floor nurse who does not believe in medicating those who has lost faith in the effectiveness of the mental health system. Carrying a secret connection to Van Gogh from childhood, she makes it her mission to help Van Gogh in his quest to understand his role as an artist and his place in society, past and present. Is she an agent sent by God, just one of millions of well-meaning fans, or a disturbed young lady with her own nefarious agenda?
YOUNG ANGEL is the essence of the Angel, before the fall from grace, before her loss of innocence.
TURTLE is a resident/graffiti artist, wanting to make his mark on the world, though he has remarkably little to actually say about it, through his art. He longs for celebrity. The only problem is that his work is anonymous.
PATSY SIMMONS is a highly influential art dealer, who knows how to spin an effective narrative and capitalize on the talents of others.
ART CRITIC is cynical yet deeply sincere in his longing to discover something deeper than the next flash in the pan.
We are continuing our a GoFundme campaign to assist in paying the director, actors, musicians and other theatre practitioners who are collaborating to create this first fully produced premiere production of “Vincent John Doe” at the beautiful Cannon Street Playhouse in June 2019. We are about $1,500 shy of our goal.
An earlier version of this play received a Concert production at Charleston City Gallery as part of the 2018 Piccolo Spoletto Festival. A public staged reading took place at Threshold Theatre in Charleston in 2013.
Let Robert know if you would like to receive a pdf of the entire play for review. Please stipulate the purpose of the review.
*This 2019 Piccolo Spoleto production of VJD will be partially funded by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Program through their joint administration of the Lowcountry Quarterly Art Grant Program and the SC Arts Commission which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC.
Audience members and GoFundMe contributors and choose their choice of paintings created during the production. Check out all the available premiums.
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