Vincent John Doe, a new play by Charleston artist, playwright and actor, Robert Maniscalco was presented the final weekend of the 2019 Piccolo Spoleto Festival* at the Cannon Street Arts Center, home of PURE Theatre (134 Cannon Street, Charleston).
The four performances were June 6, 7, 8 & 9. They were very well received. I have added some of the audience comments to the Testimonials, below. In process, is a film adaptation of the theatrical performance. More on that later. Now exploring future productions outside of Charleston.
- See Testimonials from Audience members.
- Watch the Fox 24 “News Now” interview on June 6, 2019
- 2019 Production Stills
- Paintings created during the 2019 VJD Production
- Time, Space and VJD
- See Review in Post and Courier June 2018
- Wrap up of the 2018 Piccolo Spoleto “concert” production
- A brief video teaser created from the 2018 “Concert” Production.
- GoFundMe Campaign 2019
- Explore other stories about Robert and his mission.
MEDIA Program Description for listings:
Enjoy a fascinating visit with Vincent Van Gogh, who is caught in a time vortex and sees firsthand the impact his work has had on the world of today. Acclaimed performer and visionary artist Robert Maniscalco brings Vincent to life, even painting a couple “Van Goghs” right before our very eyes. Get into the brilliant mind of one of the greatest artists the world has ever known in this multi-disciplinary, interactive theatre production, integrating live music (piano, violin and voice) with live painting into a unique and deeply moving, immersive creative experience.
Playwright Robert Maniscalco and Dramaturg/Director Barbara Pitcher, who is traveling from New York City to direct, continue their collaboration on VJD. The play enjoyed three magical “Concert” performances at City Gallery in Charleston, as part of the 2018 Piccolo Spoleto Festival, where it was met with lots of laughs, tears and standing ovations. Also, the play earned some fantastic audience responses.
The 2019 production was graced with a stellar cast. Performers included top Charleston actors Kevin Cooper Ray, Lorilyn Harper, David Hallett and Susan Hallett, Fred Hutter, Brooke Mogy Watkins, Bradly Tarr, Anthony Parenti, Mary Maniscalco and Rob Maniscalco as Vincent. Live musicians are integral to the show. The 2018 and 2019 productions both featured Danny Maniscalco (violin) and James Maniscalco (piano), performing classic music as well as new music composed for the show by the playwright. Each performance also featured two “Van Gogh” paintings, created live on stage, making VJD a completely new theatrical experience.
The action of Vincent John Doe, an original full length (120 minutes), multi-media play, follows Vincent, as he is being committed to a mental hospital, fighting for his “truth.” It is not a biopic, but rather a fantasy love story around the character of Van Gogh, set in a modern context, borrowing heavily from Vincent’s own words. “It’s sort of an Alice in Wonderland where the wonderland is us,” says playwrite, Rob Maniscalco.
We never quite know for sure if this character really is Van Gogh or just another delusional. As Vincent longs for a return to his own time he finds he must also fight for validation in the present. The more Vincent insists upon his identity the more trouble ensues. Eventually, he comes to realize the battle over his identity is not the real issue he must face. Meanwhile, as the audience wonders whether the play is a piece of science fiction or a psychological thriller, they have become embroiled in a high stakes existential battle about the real meaning of freedom, identity and truth.
Vincent John Doe started with the question, “What if Van Gogh were to somehow show up today, in NYC?” As one might expect, people would immediately assume he is “crazy.” That is where VJD begins. Vincent is petitioned into a mental facility for evaluation and treatment. As he navigates today’s mental health system he encounters therapists and fellow patients who make him, and us, question the “crazy artist” paradigm. Once he escapes “the system” he becomes an overnight sensation and his talent and adamant assertion that he is the real Van Gogh is exploited by a cynical art world. But his connection with Angel, the floor nurse in the hospital turns into something more than he ever expected.
VJD examines the question of how our society has come to define mental illness. The play explores the differences between mental illness and the artistic temperament and what to do with those who refuse to conform to behaviors we consider “normal.” The play explores the meaning of identity and the role of ego. It challenges our relationship with God and the courage it takes to speak to the world through one’s art. What is the burden and responsibility of the artist, in terms of truth? Does truth even matter anymore in today’s society? What is the place of the artist in the world of commerce? And what is the true measure of his success?
The play explores these important themes while telling a compelling story about love and redemption. Robert says, “the important thing is we are getting people talking about truth, alt truth, identity, the meaning of insanity, the cost of fame, authenticity and artistic purity, the nature of existence, the commodification of art, the responsibility of the artist, overcoming creative blocks, childhood trauma and of course, the creative process itself.”
VJD is a deep reexamination of the character of Van Gogh, who has been marginalized by our society as the ultimate “crazy artist.” Here, using his own letters as source material, VJD mines the depth of the great artist’s thinking, bringing to light his great insight and wisdom.
One unique feature of VJD is that it requires the actor playing Van Gogh to create two actual Van Gogh paintings in real time, during the course of each performance, blurring the lines between the theatre and visual art disciplines. The world premiere “concert” production featured renowned Charleston artist/actor Robert Maniscalco painting in the style of the great art legend. He and six other local actors performed all the roles.
Production notes: The design concept requires minimal set components. Light, sound effects and projections create most of the changes in scenery and mood. Production elements and costs are minimal enough to make it easy to produce. The venue requirements are flexible but VJD does work better basic lighting and sound facilities.
An invitation to producers: The unique, multi-disciplinary nature of the play’s structure, the high profile notoriety of the subject himself, the compelling ideas, pertinent contemporary issues and intriguing story line make it the perfect offering for any cutting edge intimate theatre venue. VJD pushes the limits of the multi-disciplinary genre without going broke.
At first, VINCENT VAN GOGH is what we might expect of the great artist, who believes he has been transported to the future. He is disoriented but addement in his convictions and intentions. Is he really who he says he is or just another delusional? Is anyone really who they think they are? The real existential question for Van Gogh, however, is not who he is but why he is here? VJD is a portrait of the thoughtful, insightful man behind the legendary “mad genius.”
DR KEN FISHER is a published psychiatrist who has developed idiosyncratic methods to help delusional patients in finding their true identity. Though he is never convinced that he is sitting across from the actual Vincent Van Gogh, he is hard-pressed to accomplish his goal of convincing his patient.
MS. MINDA is an ardent art therapist who believes sincerely in the power of creativity to unblock those struggling with mental illness, even someone as far gone as Vincent seems to be. She has absolute faith in art as the key to breaking through to the truth.
RONNIE is a fellow patient. He is a brilliant sociopath with a sardonic wit, troubled by anger, who seems to have a remarkable grasp of reality, as long as it conforms to his skewed world view. If not, it is fake news and must be destroyed.
ANGEL is a floor nurse who does not believe in medicating those who has lost faith in the effectiveness of the mental health system. Carrying a secret connection to Van Gogh from childhood, she makes it her mission to help Van Gogh in his quest to understand his role as an artist and his place in society, past and present. Is she an agent sent by God, just one of millions of well-meaning fans, or a disturbed young lady with her own nefarious agenda?
YOUNG ANGEL is the essence of the Angel, before the fall from grace, before her loss of innocence.
TURTLE is a resident/graffiti artist, wanting to make his mark on the world, though he has remarkably little to actually say about it, through his art. He longs for celebrity. The only problem is that his work is anonymous.
PATSY SIMMONS is a highly influential art dealer, who knows how to spin an effective narrative and capitalize on the talents of others.
ART CRITIC is cynical yet deeply sincere in his longing to discover something deeper than the next flash in the pan.
We are continuing our a GoFundme campaign to assist in paying the director, actors, musicians and other theatre practitioners who are collaborating to create this first fully produced premiere production of “Vincent John Doe” at the beautiful Cannon Street Playhouse in June 2019. We are about $1,500 shy of our goal.
An earlier version of this play received a Concert production at Charleston City Gallery as part of the 2018 Piccolo Spoletto Festival. A public staged reading took place at Threshold Theatre in Charleston in 2013.
Let Robert know if you would like to receive a pdf of the entire play for review. Please stipulate the purpose of the review.
*This 2019 Piccolo Spoleto production of VJD will be partially funded by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Program through their joint administration of the Lowcountry Quarterly Art Grant Program and the SC Arts Commission which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC.
Audience members and GoFundMe contributors and choose their choice of paintings created during the production. Check out all the available premiums.
Angel Killed it!
Great job to everyone!!
I loved the music and the words of Vincent Van Gogh!
Funny and oddly relatable…with a wonderful mixture of art forms. I loved it!
Very Nice! Incorporates all forms of art! Very Unique!
My wife and I rank your Vincent John Doe production, which we saw on Monday, among the shining lights of all events we have seen in a dozen years of Spoletto and Piccolo events! The acting space, the live music to accompany live performances, and your ability to create credible art work in the fly were elements that once again reinforce: there is NOTHING to compare to live theater. We are left to contemplate, did Vincent get it better this time on his return to his age – did he now have some experiences to aid him in combating the suicidal demons which overtook him in his first life? My wife and I like to believe that he did, and that he was able to live longer, create more, and even stumble on an artistic mentor/sponsor like the relationship between Degas and Gauguin. You are unique in that you have the artist’s hand and with prior experiences the playwright’s ability to pull this off.
It was a triumph of imagination and performance. Loved the creating of art and music live. This is true theater and creative fun.
We put our names in the drawing for one of the spontaneous pictures you created while performing, so who knows, maybe we will have even more to remember that production than the program and our vivid memories. Thanks from my wife Lezlie and I for the play and its marvelous performance. Your physical resemblance to the artist only made the play better! We have seen Van Gogh originals in museums including those at Amsterdam. My wife and I also have been to St. Remy in France where he went for some recuperation and I have marvelous shots of a work he painted at the sanatorium, next to a photo I made of those same trees and mountains today.
We will now have to see your gallery to see what you can produce when you have time to paint without the clock of dialog to work within. As I said when we briefly shook hands at the Monday performance, “What fun!”
Lead Actor was a Pro!
I actually think this work would be excellent as a novel or on film. Fabulous concept!
I Love the Play
And the actual paintings from the actor.
I connect so much to Robert, such a complex figure in such an experiential way.
Very Fresh Interaction
The interaction in the play is very fresh. Really enjoy the moments of reflection while “Vincent” paints.
The Music and Painting is Hypnotizing
The Music Was Beautiful!!
Script was engaging – Art and mental health really go together. Portraiture was inspiring.
Love the “Three Ring Circus”
And I mean that in the best of ways!
Very Entertaining & Fun!
Actors were excellent. Pace was fantastic.
This is Amazing! Love it!
Nature of Art!
This play incorporates live music, film, and Van Gogh reproductions painted onstage. It’s an incredible story about the nature of art and its place in the world, all performed with a view of the Charleston Harbor.
Off the Chain!!
Last night was off the chain!!! You nailed it, wow, thank you! My jaw is still on the ground. Just beautiful Rob!!! Enjoying all your reviews…truly heartwarming and dreamy…bringing dreams to life! A most perfect night for Piccolo Spoletto’s Vincent John Doe play Starring Rob Maniscalco as Vincent Van Gogh at the City Gallery with Karen and Jan! It was a fantastic play!!! Cheers!
Very Much Fun!
Talented artist and actor – Good lines!
Acting is Marvelous!
Very impressed!! Also, its fascinating to watch VJD paint in in real time.
Fantastic, interesting subject! 🙂
Brings a Feeling of Sadness and Brilliance
. . . of appreciating nature!
Really Enjoyed It!
It’s Even Cooler Than I Thought it Would be.
Very different and creative. Will spread the word.
Creative Use of Time and Space
Music so enhancing. Acting so well executed!
multi-dimensional nature of the play reinforces love facts. Listening the musical selections in the program would be a good idea. Perhaps just a bit shorter interludes with the voice over and briefer first scene and John Doe being taken from the streets. Some of the set could be set farther back upstage. Thank you so much!
Most amazing performance I have ever seen – so creative – watching the actor paint in the performance – the music – the quotes – all wonderful!!
I’ve Never Experienced Anything Like It!
I’ve never experienced anything like it! Painting and music during the play as part of the action was wonderful! Such talent is very impressive! It was a great interpretation and revival of Van Gogh and his art and philosophy! I admire his art and story as a fan. I loved the performance.
Wonderful! Great use of the gallery space. Loved the interaction with the audience. Well Done!
Very Good Play!!
Three for the Price of One
Enjoyed seeing three different types of works in progress at the same time. Play, music, visual art.
Kudos to All!!!!
Music, Original Dialogue
A transplanted New Yorker, Thoroughly enjoyed the clever dialogue. Your daughter is lovely.Thanks for the great success. See you in Greenwich Village!
So poignant, beautifully written. Pleasantly, wonderfully surprised. Thank you robert!!
Insightful and Thought Provoking
Insightful and thought provoking.
Amazing the bringing together of us all across time, culture and identity.
Impressive, Deep and Satisfying journey through colorful inner terrain.
Loved the cafeteria scene!
The Play was Very Interesting
Everyone was fantastic!!
What Marvelous Layering
What marvelous layering of media and thoughts. Thoroughly enjoyed the thoughts, painting and acting. Thank you all.
Enjoyed the Whole Performance
Good mix of humor and drama. great idea to have Vincent’s thoughts in voice over, with live music, while painting.
Second time I’ve enjoyed your work as an actor on stage.
Amazingly creative! Loved the actors.
Blurring the boundaries of theater, music and visual art
What would happen if Vincent Van Gogh showed up in New York City today? That’s the pretext for the play “Vincent John Doe,” which just completed a three-day Piccolo Spoleto Festival run at the City Gallery.
Charleston painter and actor Robert Maniscalco plays Van Gogh Vincent John Doe) in the Big Apple. His character is arrested and assumed to be mentally ill. He meets with therapists and fellow patients who challenge the definition of “the crazy artist.”
After escaping the hospital, he exploits the contemporary commercial art market by painting — Maniscalco creates two works during the show, accompanied by music (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata) performed by his brother James Maniscalco.
“Where is home?” Vincent John Doe is asking.
Blurring the boundaries of theater, music and visual art, the play, written by Robert Maniscalco, transforms abstract philosophical ideas into a visual experience that explores artistic temperament and commercialization.
Reviewer Chunzi Shi is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.