Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (1985)

Summary:  In Act One, a fictionalized version of artist Georges Seurat is working on his famous "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" painting while navigating a failing relationship with his lover Dot and the critical voices of fellow artists and acquaintances.  In the second half of Act 2, the play fast forwards to 1984 and another artist named George is attempting to generate financial support for a new experimental project that celebrates Seurat's work with the use of lasers and extensive electronic technology.  Both Georges are played by the same actor and it is gradually revealed that 1984 George is a descendant of Georges Seurat.

Thoughts:  One of Stephen Sondheim's signatures is repetition, which makes this play enjoyable to listen to, but difficult to read.  The stage directions in this play are also highly technical and staging is dependent on large pieces of scenery and cutouts featuring different parts of the painting.  The use of repetition and arpeggio are especially effective at demonstrating one of the central themes of the play:  that art is often monotonous and isolating.

Again, it is interesting that this is Stephen Sondheim's only Pulitzer; as much of it involves a character who is decidedly not American, and the bulk of the play takes place in France.  Only in the second act is America mentioned (1984 George is from New Jersey).

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.  Wikipedia, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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