Sunday in the Park With George

Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - Photo by UGArdener, Flickr Creative Commons

Date night! Dinner and a show with my Honey, dinner at CJ Muggs and a show at The Rep, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George”. The point of departure for this Sondheim musical is Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon the Island of La Grande Jatte”, pictured above.

A 19th century, French painter, Seurat, pioneered the painting technique called Pointillism. He created his paintings by dabbing just the tip of his paintbrush onto the canvas. You might call this a quiet, but absorbing painting technique. Up close Seurat’s painting looks abstract, atomized color into thousands of dots. Step back though and the painting resolves itself into a picture of the artist’s vision. The engineer in me likens this technique to an early analog version of digitization. Unfortunately, Seurat never sold a painting in his lifetime and died at the age of 31.

Seurat, a modernist artist, is the perfect inspiration for this contemplative modernist musical. George, like his play, which thinks as much about itself as the rest of the world is too self-absorbed to even see his female lead, the aptly named Dot. His art is more important and if she cannot realize this, well then. The first act ends with a tour-de-theater on-stage recreation of Seurat’s famous painting.

Flash forward a hundred years and through intermission to the second act. George is now Seurat’s great-grandson. His grandmother, Seurat’s and Dot’s daughter is still on hand. George is still wrestling with the complexities of art and love, but this time around his art is just all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This play about an artist that failed in love, in life, struck close to home. Our son, Dan is an artist and we worry about him. Art is a tough profession, as Seurat’s life testifies.

Pointillism is art composed of a thousand dots, nay a million, anyway quiet and absorbing work. So is making a thousand squirrels. Is making a thousand squirrels as lucky as making a thousand origami cranes? Only time will tell. No one, save Seurat, realized the greatness of his work, at the time. Dot realized the greatness of Seurat, the man, but her love was unrequited. His love of art, love of self, overshadowed her love, but, at least in the play, they both endured. I wonder it there will be any black squirrels?

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