Theater Review: "Sunday In The Park With George"

Photo credit:
Ion Theatre

“Artists are bizarre,” says artist’s model Dot (Melissa Fernandes), bored as she sits once again for boyfriend/pointillist artist Georges Seurat (Jon Lorenz).

Dot, in one of those long, hot dresses, wants a little attention; Georges wants to “finish the hat” (his term for finishing a painting), and is monomaniacally focused with doing just that, whatever the cost.

The cost will eventually be their relationship, when Dot, realizing she will always play second fiddle to his obsession – art – goes off to marry someone else.

Ion Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Sunday In The Park With George” sports a sterling cast and plays through July 16 at the The San Diego Museum of Art's James S. Copley Auditorium.

The first act takes place in Paris in 1884, where we encounter the miscellaneous people wandering through the park who will end up in Georges’ most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte."

Two young women named Celeste (played wonderfully by Priti Gandhi and Lizzie Morse) gossip and plot how to capture the attention of a soldier (Patrick Gates), while Georges’ more commercially successful artist friend Jules (Jesse MacKinnon) and his snooty wife Yvonne (Wendy Waddell) tsk-tsk all over the place. Fifth-grader Katrina Heil plays their daughter Louise, and Julia Nardi-Loving plays Jules’ paramour Frieda.

Stewart Calhoun and Morgan Carberry play a servant and a nurse, who have a little thing going on; Walter DuMelle is an amusing Boatman in, shall we say, casual attire; and Devlin plays the Old Lady (who turns out to be Georges’ mother).

All these actors will return as different characters in the second act, which takes place 100 years later in an art museum in the United States. It’s an odd conceit, and one that leaves some theatergoers wondering why the second act is needed at all.

Theatrically, it’s because George needs to make a few changes in his limited life. But for me, there’s a better, musical reason: two songs. One, the amusing “It’s Hot Up Here,” lets the characters in That Painting sound off about standing around in the heat. They remind me of the actors complaining it’s “Too Darn Hot” in Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.”

But the best song of the lot is “Putting It Together” (which should be called “State Of The Art”), a ditty about what’s happened to the business of art in the intervening century.

I have never been a Sondheim fan, but can actually recommend this one, which is about an interesting topic and offers something besides whiny New Yorkers to listen to. And it seems especially fitting to present it in an art museum.

Kudos to directors Glenn Paris and Kim Strassburger, and to music director Mark Danisovszky and Daniel James Greenbush, who provide accompaniment on twin grand pianos on stage left.

Matt Scott’s scenic design is fairly minimal; you’ll be looking for Blake McCarty’s projection designs on the rear wall. Credit Janet Turner Pitcher for the fine costumes and Christopher Loren Renda for the excellent lighting design.

This is a short run (closing July 16), so get your tickets now for this, the fine first professional local production of “Sunday In The Park With George.”

The details

“Sunday In The Park With George” plays through July 16 at the San Diego Museum of Art’s James S. Copley Auditorium, 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park.

Tuesday at 7p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm;  Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or www.iontheatre.com