Sunday in the Park with George: A Review

“White, a blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole.” So starts the musical by Stephen Sondheim chronicling the life and work of George Seurat. The show focuses on the subjects of Seurat’s iconic painting: “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” and how the relationships depicted may have affected his work.  George Fox University’s (GFU) theatre department presented this show as their Winter Musical; it was shown from 26 Jan. to 5 Feb.

As the lights dim, the show opens with Nate Ayers, playing George Seurat, in the center of the stage. He launches into a monologue in which he explains the magic he sees in design. The audience sits in rapt attention as he pulls trees from the darkness of backstage with what seems to be pure willpower (in actuality, it is the work of a masterfully hidden stage crew). He reveals intricately painted walls and within moments, the audience is transformed into passersby in a French park. Together Ayers, as Seurat, and Sarah Aldrich, as Dot, weave together an unconventional and semi-tragic love story. It is a story of love between two people as well as the love between a person and his or her endeavors. Director of the show, Rhet Luedtke, said in an interview with GFU’s news release blog, “When does my creative drive and passion to create meaningful work negatively impact my relationships with my family and friends? Is compromise possible in the quest for excellence?” These are the essential questions explored in the show. From the park, to the studio, to a gallery, and back to the park, the audience experiences a full circle.It is a 100-year story of what it means to be passionately human, to endeavor to balance the pursuit of beauty with one’s own inherent flaws.

Tim Timmerman, artist and professor, praised the show. He specifically loved the opening song of Act Two: “It’s Hot up Here,” in which the cast appears in its entirety, replicating the poses of their counterparts in the original painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” As they sit and stand in their poses, they sing to one another in a humorous and accurate portrayal of the façade that melts away when people lose their ability to tolerate each other.

“The actors were very talented and it was a good story. I enjoyed that part of it,” said one theatre minor at GFU. His critique of the show was more toward the writer than the cast. He said that it was a bit long, and the off-kilter soundtrack was not his favorite for a musical. Overall, Roy commended the cast for their acting and the meticulous portrayal of their characters.

Those who did not get a chance to see GFU’s portrayal of “Sunday at the Park with George” can see the next production, Deus Ex Millennia, a student-written play. Opening night is April 6 at 7:30 p.m.

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