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Compelling Sunday deserves `masterpiece' billing

Sunday in the Park
with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Book by James Lapine.
Directed by Tarik K. Alkasab '92.
Starring Bob De Vivo
and Jeannette L. Ryan G.
Presented by the MIT Musical Theatre Guild.
Kresge Little Theatre.
August 28-30; September 3-6, 10-12; 8 p.m.

By Chris Roberge
Arts Editor

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George is a wonderfully complex and emotional musical that may well deserve the label of "masterpiece" that the MIT Musical Theatre Guild has used in advertising the production. The story is compelling, Sondheim's score is as engrossing as it is interesting and original, and its themes are presented in a subtly powerful fashion.

The recurring image of the musical is that of minute details, expressions, and actions coalescing into balanced and harmonious wholes. Unfortunately, the different parts of MTG's production of Sunday in the Park with George do not always fuse seamlessly, but overall this is a competent and very entertaining presentation of an excellent work.

The majority of the plot of Sunday in the Park with George focuses on a period in the life of the pointillist painter George Seurat (Bob De Vivo). George is depicted as an obsessive man whose devotion to his art can be seen in his dogged insistence on perfection. This determination to be as flawless as possible, as well as a welcoming attitude toward scientific theories describing the nature of vision have led him to develop a novel style of painting. George paints small dots of various colors on his canvases in such a way that from a distance, the points appear to blend together to create an image with a unique degree of shading, lighting, and texture. In preparation for composing each of the objects in his paintings from countless dots, he studies and sketches each of his subjects in different locations and times. It is only in George's mind and in his art that all of the subjects and settings are combined into one structured entity.

This fragmented approach carries over into his outward appearance and actions as well. No one, including his girlfriend Dot (Jeannette L. Ryan G), truly understands how he feels. He can be highly emotive in isolated instances, but it is difficult for anyone to piece together the clues he reveals to comprehend the motives behind his actions and decisions. Eventually, Dot becomes frustrated with George's behavior and leaves him for the less passionate but more dependable Louis (Thomas Andrews).

In the stunning second act, George's problems with both his personality and his art are inherited by another George (De Vivo again), who is a relative several generations later. By the musical's end, the increasingly universal obstacles that the two Georges encounter require simple but beautiful resolutions from both the past and the present in order for the characters to move on into the future.

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George is quite good, with only a few minor exceptions. As George, Bob De Vivo provides a very stable center for the production. His singing is the best of the cast, particularly in the second act's "Putting it Together" and "Move On," and his acting captures both the humor and sadness of the characters. Jeannette L. Ryan G is also good as Dot, and excellent as Dot's daughter, Marie. Her voice is expressive, but during several songs it was overpowered by the orchestra. Nicholas Pioch '94 gives an entertainingly stuffy performance as George's chief peer and critic, Jules. Also noteworthy is Courtney Furno, who acts in two of the play's flashiest roles, the outspoken boatman whom George chooses as one of his subjects, and the southern aristocrat, Mr., whose insolence causes many of the musical's funniest moments.

The stage, designed by Franklin Burris Jackes '90 and Peter Marc Coalo G, is an astonishingly intricate success. The multilayered, pointillist park of the first act is a wonderfully playful and imaginative representation of the setting of Seurat's most famous painting. The studio where George works meticulously on his works is a darkly lit and unkempt area with only the painting itself providing a bright and clear focus of attention. And the modern gallery of the second act is a bleak and empty area that mirrors the emptiness of the people who gather there.

Sondheim's music is beautiful and ingenious. Many songs begin with isolated and disconnected notes, and only as the songs progress do the notes converge into full and sweeping melodies. This fragmentation and combination of orchestral tones and colors reflects the combinations of visual colors and images that George uses. The orchestra sometimes struggled with the difficult score, but their performance was still enjoyable.

This production does have some noticeable missteps, but even these minor flaws disappeared by the second act. The good work done by the cast and crew provides a great opportunity to see Sunday in the Park with George, a fascinating and very entertaining musical that definitely should not be missed.