Playwright Kimber Lee has had several plays produced by top national theaters over the years, but she admits the cycle of expanding and slowing submissions and commissions can be demoralizing and exhausting.
So when she read a voluminous biography of the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh six or seven years ago, she felt an unexpected kinship with the 19th century artist, who suffered many setbacks during her life. brief and troubled, but experienced an explosion of brilliant creativity. in the two years before his death.
“When I read this book, it was definitely a time when I was having a little trouble making my way into American theater myself. It’s often very difficult when you go through those cycles where you have to get up and start over, ”Lee said. “I am drawn to the stories of people who have gone through the wringer of failure after failure and still find a way through until they reach the place of discovery. ”
This book was the catalyst for ‘The Yellow House’, Lee’s latest play, which will premiere next week at La Jolla Playhouse. It is set in Paris in 1886, two years before Van Gogh abruptly moved to the south of France and began painting the sunny, brightly colored post-Impressionist masterpieces he is best known for. But before heading south to Arles in 1888, van Gogh went through one of the deepest periods of disappointment in his life.
Most of what we know today about Van Gogh’s adult life comes from the weekly letters he exchanged with his brother, Theo. But during the Parisian years, Vincent lived with Théo, so there is no written record. Lee said this gap in the epistolary story gave him the creative license to imagine how van Gogh’s Parisian experiences set the stage for what was to come.
In “A la maison jaune”, Vincent gets into debt, drinks too much, falls in love with the wrong woman and finds himself broke on his brother’s doorstep in Montmartre. He is desperately looking for an artistic breakthrough that will allow him to translate the world, the color and the light he sees in his mind on a canvas.
“He was a realist, that is, he painted what he saw in front of him. But the thing he wanted to do was channel it through his soul, his feelings, what he was feeling, so it conveyed that feeling to the person looking at the painting, “Lee said.
In 2018, Lee was awarded a one-month writing scholarship in the south of France. When this ended, she spent the next six weeks traveling to the towns where Van Gogh lived, most notably Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh died at the age of 37 in 1890. She also visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. She said seeing the same landscapes and cities that van Gogh painted helped inspire her vision for the piece.
“To the yellow house” marks Lee’s debut at La Jolla Playhouse. The production is directed by Neel Keller, a former associate artistic director of Playhouse who now holds the same position at the Center Theater Group in LA. Keller collaborated with Lee at CTG in 2014 on “Different Words for the Same Thing” (all of Lee’s play titles are in lowercase). Lee’s “The Story of the Tokyo Fish” premiered at the Old Globe in 2016 and his “Brownsville Song (B-side for set)” had a first reading at the Globe in 2014 and a full production in 2016 at the Moxie San Diego Theater.
The Playhouse production features an ethnically diverse cast of actors that includes six UC San Diego MFA students. Paco Tolson of the Manhattan Theater Club’s “Vietgone” plays the role of Vincent. Frankie J. Alvarez of HBO’s “Looking” plays Theo. The design team includes set designer Takeshi Kata, who designed the Playhouse’s “Cambodian Rock Band” and “The Last Tiger in Haiti”. The costumes were created by Without Walls festival veteran David Israel Reynoso of San Diego.
Lee said that two things she wanted the audience to know about “at the yellow house” was that it is both a drama and a comedy, and that her conception of the production will attempt to recreate the world that Van Gogh saw.
“We are trying to take the audience on a visual journey as well as looking through Vincent’s eyes to get a feel for how he was starting to see and work with color and how this evolution happened through the experiences. and the connections he had in Paris, ”Lee said. “The way we stage things, we create a feeling like a river of light, color and sound. When the audience enters, they will be transported through this experience in this very beautiful way. “
“at the yellow house”
When: Previews from Tuesday to November 20; opens at 7 p.m. on November 21 and continues through December 12. Session times, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. 7 p.m. on Sundays.
Or: La Jolla Playhouse at Mandell Weiss Theater, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
Tickets: $ 25 to $ 80
Telephone: (858) 550-1010
In line: lajollaplayhouse.org
COVID Policy: Proof of complete vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of the time of the show. Masks compulsory inside.