A perfect Sunday in the Park With George | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader

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A perfect Sunday in the Park With George

Chicago Shakespeare's staging of the Sondheim musical is a walk in the, well . . .


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"Order. Design. Tension. Balance. Harmony." Those are the words Georges Seurat uses to describe the vision in his head as he paints his pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, during the first act of Sunday in the Park With George. They also describe the musical itself. There's a classical symmetry to this 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, as if it was worked out according to a Broadway version of the Golden Ratio.

And yet the show also projects an extraordinary warmth—even, at times, a cornball sweetness—that transcends calculation.

Lapine's book starts with Seurat working obsessively on La Grande Jatte: sketching at the park, painting in his studio, ignoring the feelings of his lover Dot (get it?) even as he forces her to endure marathon posing sessions under a hot summer sun. The second half offers another George—Seurat's putative great-grandson—who's also an artist, but much more adept than his forebear at gaming the fine-art system to advance his career. Exploiting the centenary of La Grande Jatte so as to put one of his outsize, technically complex pieces on the actual island called la Grande Jatte, George the younger finds himself confronting Seurat's ideal of beauty.

Carmen Cusack is nothing short of marvelous as both Dot and Dot's daughter, Marie, the two catalysts for the two Georges (both engagingly played by Jason Danieley). With the help of a superb production team, director Gary Griffin has created a flow of perfect stage pictures. The order, design, tension, balance, and harmony of the thing can bring you to tears.

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