Sunday in the Park with Curious George

You know you’ve made it big when your name is condensed publicly to just a first name or a nickname: Beyonce. Cher. Prince. Pocahontas. Trivia fact: This wasn’t her real name. It was Amonute. The nickname ‘Pocahontas’ actually means ‘Little Wanton’- aka ‘slut’. Paint with THOSE colors of the wind.

The same principle of names applies to two major theatre venues in St. Louis are: The municipal Opera of St. Louis – aka ‘The Muny’ and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis– aka ‘The Rep’.

I went to the Rep last weekend to review their production of the Sondheim musical ‘Sunday in the Park with Geroge’. You can read my review Here . However, I guess I didn’t say it all. For another take, I bring you a (mock) review from fellow arts critic:

‘What’s in a Name-  Sunday in the Park with  George – by the Girl in the  Pink Hat

There is nothing that I love more than being ahead of a trend. The quality of innovation is something that is simply in my blood. I nameless Girl in the Pink hat, am the descendent of that adventurous ground-breaker made famous by the Curious George series himself, The Man in the Yellow Hat.  Has anyone you know ever renamed themselves after a fashion statement? I didn’t think so. Yes, it may say ‘Ted’ on his birth-certificate but my ancestor knows how to define himself. And to color coordinate outfits.

Just FYI, Paris Hilton wasn’t the first for animal accessorizing. One of the first was Ted who stole lovingly adopted his very own ADHD primate from Africa as mini-mammal arm candy. Take THAT  Angelina Jolie and Madonna. This was of course, the famous Curious George. Also note that both monkey and man ADDED  names and adjectives. Weird Al is such a copy-monkey.

Of course, this wasn’t the first man-monkey duo. One of the first dates all the way back to the 1800’s in Paris France and it is this famous pairing that led me to The Rep to view their production of ‘Sunday in the Park with George’.

This show spends an act detailing the creation of the famous George Seurat painting ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, an innovative painting in itself. Not only was Seurat’s simple subject matter a new approach, but his technique of applying tiny dots of color in the style defined as ‘pointillism’ was a new mastery of color, texture, and shade. The second act shows a descendant of the famous George, another artist, in his own struggle to navigate the art world,  connect to those around him, and mostly, to know himself; where he comes from, and to find the inspiration to create something new. It is always fascinating to get under the skin of an artist, to see not only HOW they did the things they did, but perhaps why- to understand the struggles they went through in their attempts to capture a vision or make a name for themselves. Pointillism isn’t mastered in a day- as the painting took roughly two years to paint. You aren’t born ‘The Man in the Yellow Hat’ or Curious George either- they started out as Ted and African Monkey and had to work to define themselves.

Let’s be clear here, I don’t care much about art history or history or musicals or anything not involving me. I only went to the show because of the forefront lower right corner of the painting. See that monkey? That’s my ancestral moneky pet- the great great grandfather monkey of Curious George. The great great grandfather of the man in the Yellow hat, the Man in the Rainbow hat, is sadly not pictured. I think Seurat ran out of colored paint before he could capture my ancestral chapeau. 

The monkey onstage was a rather 2-dimensional character. In fact, I think it was made of wood and not a real monkey at all. So much for an authentic experience. If it were not for the rather incredible voices of the actors I would have called the whole thing a big dog-and-pony and no monkey show. The Guy With the Amazing Voice and Lead Girl gave such honest, touchingly human performances I actually looked them up in the program for their real names (Ron Bohmer and Erin Davie). I guess they’re fine with just two names, no costume references or adjectives as their stage names.These fine, revealing performances opened my mind to thinking about my own life. The show wasn’t exactly about me but there I am- in the big picture. Isn’t it great how art does that? Across the board, the cast- whether portraying the modern or impressionist era- left quite the impression on me. I tip my Pink Hat to them.

I always think of myself as an innovator but I was not the first to jump to my feet at the curtain call. I was also not the first to my seat, though I will say, I was not the last either. In an innovator’s ideal, early is on time and on time is late so the people who show up late to a show should not be allowed in until intermission. Theatre and life wait for no one.

It seems that so often humans (and monkeys) are defined by the easy things to spot by anyone glancing from a distance. How do we dress, what do we eat what do we read? It is harder to see what one really loves without time. An introduction is never more than a snap-shot.  If life is a canvas the way we fill it is the way we fill our time, the people and monkeys we associate with, as described in the song ‘Children and Art’ from the show. Knowing how to make a real name for yourself is to know what gives you joy, innovation, and perspective- and to find a way to share it; as Seurat did, and as those involved with this production did. We wear our definition like a Yellow hat.  In the end, the words on the name tag could be anything, the Name is the reputation.

As for the show with the curiously long name in the theatre with the shortest nickname, it lives up to the rep’s reputation of excellence. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves, they are deserving of many syllables of full and enthusiastic praise.  I’d be happy to add ‘The Girl in the Pink hat sitting in the audience of whatever they do next’ to my already long title.

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