For much of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” Noah Bokat-Lindell ’12 as Georges Seurat is merely a silhouette behind a backlit canvas. “I am not hiding behind my canvas,” he says, “I am living in it.” And his words ring true when Seurat starts interacting not with his models for the famous “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” but with their painted figures.
This is not to say the play’s unconventional and intellectual premise makes it especially strange. Rather, the audience can accept the storyline’s shifting reality like it accepts the setting, painted in a pointillism style to mirror Seurat’s masterpiece, as the representation of a real park. The story follows Seurat and his lover, aptly named Dot, before jumping ahead three generations to the couple’s great-grandson, and examines (among other things) the relationship between art and life. The script is cogent, and Sondheim’s music, unsurprisingly, is fantastic.
Director Spencer Klavan ’13 took on a challenge with “Sunday in the Park,” a musical as grand in its score and script as it is in its philosophical undertakings. This was certainly more stripped-down than the last Sondheim musical performed on campus, the Yale Dramat’s grandiose production of “Sweeney Todd.” Yet Klavan’s production, in the black box Off-Broadway Theater, was an intimate reinterpretation of the cinematic original Broadway production. The effect can be pleasant; instead of singing at you, the actors sing to you. At times, however, the musical is perhaps too wide in scope for the production to handle. Sondheim is big and almost cinematic, and the music is central to the plotline, yet members of the ensemble are sometimes drowned out by the musical accompaniment during their solos.
Since the musical centers around the composition of a painting, the staging is especially prominent in this production and very well done on Klavan’s part. The actors and the setting meld together to create a very aesthetically pleasing three hours. While the full cast on occasion makes the stage seem crowded, some of the most striking positioning features Sara Hendel ’14 as Dot, singing from center stage to Bokat-Lindell, who is off to the side and obscured by the canvas.
A memorable feature is the fullness of the musical accompaniment, directed by Micah Hendler ’12. The score reflects Seurat’s pointillism, and brings dissonant notes together to create a pleasing effect. The actors, led by Hendel and Bokat-Lindell, hold their own in the face of the musical challenge.
Hendel in particular vocally carries the cast with her strong singing, which skillfully conveys her exasperation with the preoccupied character of Seurat. Bokat-Lindell remains somewhat closed off throughout the show, showing little excitement and emotion that aligns with his uncommunicative character, but has moments of emotional tenderness in scenes with his mother that showcase his acting abilities more than his performance as a whole does. His singing seems similarly restrained at times, but comes out in full force for the more dramatic points of the show. Kyle Picha ’14 commands stage presence as Jules, representative of the strong acting to be found in most of the ensemble roles.
“Sunday in the Park with George” is a delightful musical, one that would be difficult for even a Broadway cast. This smaller-scale version loses some of the intended theatricality, but is still an enjoyable theater-going experience.