COMMITTED documents artistic sacrifice

Performance Review by Danielle Boss: Committed by Natalie Menna

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Committed is an astounding new play which made its world premiere on
September 8th at the 14th Street Y. Presented by the Altruistic Theatre Company, the
production finished its run on September 23rd. Committed is a historical fiction written by Natalie Menna and directed by Brock Harris Hill.

The play focuses on the life of Theo Van Gogh, the great grandson of Vincent Van Gogh’s brother with the same name. After releasing his controversial film, Submission, which criticizes the mistreatment of Muslim women justified by the Quran, Theo Van Gogh faces great backlash from the Dutch Muslim community. Despite receiving death threats, Theo adamantly refuses to apologize for his film’s offensive nature. He is determined to release the controversial film to local theaters, even though many advise him to pull the film entirely. Theo goes to great lengths to both preserve his film and to protect his creative team and loved ones, who also face danger and receive death threats by being associated with him and Submission. Theo is willing to risk it all in order to stand by his film and its message that he firmly believes in. Throughout the duration of the play, Theo does everything he can in order to protect everyone but himself. He goes so far as firing his film editor and close friend, Azzad, in order to protect him from association with the film. After discovering that his own son, Lieuwe, is being targeted at school because of the film, Theo decides to move to the United States in order to protect his family. While trying to protect his film and those he cares about, Theo’s stalwart nature ends up being his own demise when the play concludes with Van Gogh’s murder by Mohammed Bouyeri.

Committed is a beautiful show with a moving message about the great lengths an
artist will take in order to preserve their work. Natalie Menna’s astute writing beautifully illustrates the intricate nature of Van Gogh’s life and the controversial beliefs he held.

Committed is full of complicated characters with conflicting motives. Menna’s brilliant
writing captures the multifaceted nature of Theo Van Gogh’s character: neither painting
him as a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but simply as an artist struggling to uphold his work.
Menna’s dialogue is gorgeous with resonating lines such as the exchange between Theo
and Azzad:
“Sanity doesn’t change shit.”
“Neither does madness.”

Natalie Menna masterfully crafted a world that is neither black or white, but grey. The
moral values held by each character is complex and Menna shrewdly draws up the
characters in a nonbiased manner. Natalie Menna’s writing for Committed is
commendable given the extremely sensitive nature of the subject matter. The parallels
Menna draws between Theo Van Gogh’s character and Vincent Van Gogh is incredibly
fascinating as Committed tackles themes of an artist being driven to madness in order to
foster his work. Theo holds a great admiration for his great grandfather and has Vincent
Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait hanging in his study for the duration of the play.
However, Azzad warns Theo that his great grandfather was driven to insanity for his
work and that Theo should heed to reason. Menna does an admirable job in portraying a
story full of gripping themes such as religion, identity, ego, artistic integrity, love, family,
loyalty, selfishness vs. selflessness, and how far a person will go to stand for what they
believe in.

The creative team for Committed have truly outdone themselves in crafting this
riveting spectacle. The direction done by Brock Harris Hill was nothing short of
phenomenal. His artistic vision was evident and his interpretation of the text in creating
the world of the play was astute. The success of the play’s execution and the direction the
actors took toward their characters is a true testament to Hill’s directing. Benjamin Ehrenreich’s lighting design for is stunning. Each scene had a different color scheme, i.e. one scene emitting blue light, another emitting red light, etc. The different colors set the ambiance and tone for each scene, such as red light symbolizing lust and anger while orange symbolized passivity and reason. The lighting not only complemented the set design very well, but it also complemented the character’s mood for the scene.

The set design done by Kryssy Wright was lovely and in tandem with the lighting design, rendering its effect enchanting. Janet Mervin’s adroit costume designs enhanced each character’s personality and values. Theo Van Gogh’s simple outfit of overalls echoes his proclivity to nonchalance and indifference. The choice to clothe Azzad in a compromise of both “traditional” Muslim wear and street clothing reflects the character’s “reformed” and modern approach toward his religion. The all black outfits worn by Victoria, San Francisco reporter and confidant to Theo, reflects her ardent professionalism and conservatism while attempting to conceal her “unprofessional” feelings she develops toward Theo.

The sound design for Committed done by Jacob Subotnick expresses the morally ambiguous world Natalie Menna has created. The songs he chooses to play in the background at certain moments of the play breathtakingly evoke an emotional response from the audience. The sounds are eerie, soothing, and awe inspiring, enhancing the complicated themes of Theo and his story.

Francisco Solorzano shines in his role as Azzad. His performance was phenomenal in portraying the character’s emotional reactions to Theo and the drastic choices he makes. Solorazno’s vocal range and emotional inflections are apparent and his body language poetically expresses Azzad’s internal conflict with his loyalty to Theo clashing with Theo’s abrasive attitude. The actor’s voice projection is skillful and his facial expressions poignant in his outstanding role as Azzad. Philip Schneider does a lovely job in his captivating performance of Lieuwe. The pain in which he expresses toward losing his Muslim friend due to his father’s film is palpable. Schneider brilliantly portrays Lieuwe’s loyalty to his father while also suffering from his own friend bullying him due to Theo’s film. Schneider’s performance is indelibly moving in the play’s closing as he mourns over the loss of his father. Ivette Dumeng as Victoria does a wonderful job in presenting her character as both a journalist trying to jumpstart her career, but also as a woman catching feelings for Theo and trying to protect him. Brad Fryman’s performance as Theo Van Gogh is compelling with his portrayal of Theo’s conflicting morals and staunch values. The actor’s profound performances truly capture the engrossing message the play presents. Committed is a morally complex play that resonates not only with artists who struggle to uphold their visions, but also with anyone fighting for the values that they believe in.

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