Make us your home page

Review: Jobsite's 'Inventing Van Gogh' a thoughtful work of art

TAMPA — The first thing you see in the playhouse is the lighting, soft yellows streaming through faux windows of a fairly barren set. Couple that with the classical music overhead, and everything feels cozy as a blanket, small, intimate, contained.

But Inventing Van Gogh, the final production of the season from Jobsite Theater, is not small. It is big and ambitious, so much so that the story leaps from a modern-day art studio to 19th century France, sometimes back and forth within mere minutes. Living people interact with dead people, actors play multiple characters, time and place is fluid.

The high concept could cause whiplash. I did hear someone in the crowd say "I'm so confused," at intermission, so it's definitely possible some might find Inventing Van Gogh too hard to follow.

I found it mostly easy, and in fact, quite beautiful. The play directed by Karla Hartley manages to feel tight, despite the big leaps of belief it demands.

The premise: A shady art authenticator named Rene Bouchard (Ned Averill-Snell) taps contemporary artist Patrick Stone (Steve Fisher) to forge a Vincent van Gogh painting, creating a mysterious story and making lots of money in the process. Rene knows Patrick is uninspired and vulnerable after the death of his mentor, and also has secrets he wouldn't want getting out.

But Rene doesn't know Patrick is having visions, or maybe actual visits from Van Gogh himself. The driving question of the play unfolds, both literal and existential — is the painting really a fake? In our lives, what is real and what is perceived?

Jordan Foote is a doppelganger for the artist, with his slim constitution and red hair and beard. His accent is a little confusing, neither Dutch, French, American nor vaguely British. Apart from that, he's a forceful actor who captures the artist's descent into the clutches of mental illness with empathy.

Patrick and Van Gogh have a parallel love interest in Haley and Marguerite, both played with penetrating sadness by Nicole Jeannine Smith. Greg Thompson plays both Patrick's teacher obsessed with Van Gogh, and Van Gogh's doctor, whom the artist famously painted in his "Portrait of Dr. Gachet." He also serves as narrator, effectively gluing the time shifts together.

A major comic highlight is Averill-Snell's turn as eccentric French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin, a boisterous drunk who thinks those painters who went before knew how to dazzle without any insight.

To that end, the whole play feels like a bit of an art history lesson for the casual consumer, and maybe a tasty helping of nerd kibble for big-time fans (or haters) of Van Gogh. All kinds of questions about his work come up. Did he paint too fast? Was he overrated and under-practiced? Was he obsessed with his own image?

Maybe the truth in art doesn't matter as much as the stories we craft around it, suggests the crooked Rene: "People always accept the best story as the truth."

Contact Stephanie Hayes at or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

.if you go

Inventing Van Gogh

Runs through Aug. 3 in the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $28. (813) 229-7827.

Review: Jobsite's 'Inventing Van Gogh' a thoughtful work of art 07/14/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 3:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Tuesday May 30


    Finding Neverland: The hit Broadway show follows the story behind playwright J.M. Barrie as he struggles to find inspiration to create Peter Pan, until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, …

    Mitchell Wray, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer and Ben Krieger as the Llewelyn Davies Boys in the National Tour of Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
  2. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  3. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation …

    Soft pretzels are displayed with a beer at the Features Gastropub in the Riverview 14 GDX  theater in Gibsonton, Fla. on Thursday, May 25, 2017.   The 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub open in the . This element of the project is the brainchild of Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, who appears frequently on NBC's The Today Show and the Spike TV show Bar Rescue
  4. From the food editor: I love that food is a huge part of Master of None's transcendent second season


    Deep into a late-night binge of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's Netflix series that returned for its second season May 12, I realized I was laying as far back on my couch as possible, blanket clutched up to my chin, eyebrows permanently raised.

    Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) eat lunch in Modena, Italy, in the second season of "Master of None."
  5. Three 'MasterChef' contestants from the Tampa Bay area talk cooking inspiration and more


    When Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef begins its eighth season tonight, the Tampa Bay area will have three contestants to root for. A marketing director from Tampa, a dentist and Palm Harbor native, and an employee for a steel supply company are all trying to impress a trio of judges with their home-cooking skills.

    Jeff Philbin, from Tampa, left, Palm Harbor native Paola Annoni Patel, and Danny Flores, of Land 'O Lakes, will be competing on the season premiere of "Masterchef."