By ALISON THOET
The stage itself became a canvas as the University of Mary Washington theatre gave life to Georges Seurat’s most famous painting in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”
A story of Seurat’s quest to create “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” dot-by-dot, the cast came together to paint a story that affected generations to follow. Filled with love, obsession and ideals, and sprinkled with humor, UMW theatre took a brush of their own to Sondheim’s dramatic musical
“This is a beautiful musical, it’s a gorgeous story that is an imaginative story of a very familiar painting,” said Gregg Stull, chairman of the department of theatre and dance.
Senior theatre majors Austin Bouchard and Judi Jackson once again took to UMW’s Klein Theatre and delivered their leads better than one would expect from college-level actors.
The first act is set in 1884 and followed George and the subjects of his painting.
Jackson, bustle tied tight and wielding a wicked funny bone, begins as Dot, the ever-complaining model and lover of George. Though George feels the same about Dot, his obsession with his work leaves no room for anything but his art.
“James Lapine’s Seurat is an artist so focused on his work that his interpersonal relationships suffer because of his obsessive nature,” said Bouchard about his character.
As George depicts the many park visitors in his masterpiece, their lives are splayed out for the audience to watch, even down to the desires of the dog, which were expressed by Bouchard in a rather interesting monologue.
The set displayed either the park beautifully rendered with Seurat’s speckled painting style, or a screen of the renowned painting.
The second act jumps to modern day with a George reincarnate, the great-grandson of Seurat, who has begun his own work inspired by the light and color used by his ancestor.
Jackson and Bouchard stood out with their mature vocals, interspersed with tones from the talented company that culminated into the show’s harmonic “Sunday.”
The cast worked for months on the production, sometimes rehearsing for 12 hours at one time, in between full course loads and other responsibilities. Bouchard and Jackson did historical research in addition to the show rehearsals, studying Seurat, the era’s clothing and practicing characterization.
“The process has been a journey. It’s been challenging, exciting, filled with nuances and twists and turns, but they have made me a stronger actor,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Bouchard worked closely together to create the relationship between lovers, and later as family.
“She is extremely generous, extremely talented and an inspiring person to work with,” Bouchard said.
Jackson had similar sentiments about her acting partner, saying, “It’s been a joy working with him and finding new things everyday to add more texture and life to the very complicated relationship.”
Stull has worked with the two leads since their first show at UMW and said he believes “they are very talented actors who have worked hard to learn the truth of their characters.”
Stull has directed nearly 30 plays in his 22-year career at the university, and he put his own spin on this show, originally written and directed by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
“He is an incredible director who guides us with love and care and such a wide perspective that is unprecedented to any other director I’ve seen before,” Jackson said of Stull. “This could not have been a better show to end my musical career at Klein Theatre.”
The musical runs at Klein Theatre every Thursday through Saturday until Sunday, Nov. 23.