Inventing Van Gogh

Inventing Van Gogh, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; $10-$16. Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Boulevard; (916) 960-3036; Through May 17.
Rated 4.0

By tracing Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces from poor painter to the modern-day multimillion-dollar art-trade business, Inventing Van Gogh explores the fascinating world of art from the original creation to the eventual appreciation and the ultimate exploitation of the artwork.

This Steven Dietz story also looks at what inspires creativity, what connotes art, when madness inspires and when it deters, and what drives the underworld of art forgery. Add in a struggling modern-day painter who converses with Van Gogh, a couple of romances, time jumps between late 1800s France to the present day and a mentor-professor relationship, and you end up with a multilayered, swirling story that can be quite convoluted. The majority of time, the Big Idea Theatre’s production of Inventing Van Gogh really engages, thanks to some strong performances, but it does lag a bit when the story takes on too many artistic goals.

The play begins when the art world is abuzz about a newly discovered Van Gogh that could sell for tens of millions of dollars—the kind of money that would entice a dealer (Ed Gyles Jr., who also doubles as Paul Gauguin) to approach a young gifted artist (Brennan Villados) about forging a “new” Van Gogh masterpiece. The artist is torn, intrigued and then blackmailed by the dealer into producing the “found” Van Gogh. His ethical and artistic struggles call up the spirit of Van Gogh (a captivating Brian Watson), who we observe both as the modern artist’s muse and in flashbacks to Van Gogh’s own struggles.

The three actors portraying the artists are cohesive and intriguing: Villados as the modern young artist, Watson as Van Gogh and Gyles as Gauguin, with director Benjamin T. Ismail keeping the ever-changing play’s sentiments in check. Very cool staging incorporates Van Gogh’s paintings and painting styles into various scenes, enveloping the story in Van Gogh’s beautiful artwork.