Playwright: Teresa Veramendi. At: Serendipity Theatre Ensemble at MDA Chicago Apartments, 63 E. Lake. Phone: 618-580-9968; $20. Runs through: Aug. 31
How does Teresa Veramendi love Vincent Van Gogh? Let's count the ways: she loves him with korybantic dance, with delicate acoustical music, with poetry drenched in romantic imagery almost tactile in its sensory invocations. She loves him enough to have read his letters in two foreign-language translations, to have embarked on a pilgrimage to every museum in the world housing his paintings, and to document her travels in a 2-1/2 hour play requiring not one, but three actors, to play the elusive object of her quest.
As a repository for female adoration, one could do worse than a fin-de-siècle Dutch artist, dubbed "foux roux" ( "Crazy Red" ) by his peers, who died in 1890. Veramendi's passion, however, is not that of your everyday necrophile groupie mourning her broken champion, despite such evidence as her desire to roll bodily on his canvas ( "I want to make love in your paint" ) . To ascertain our accurate comprehension of her subject, she proposes a first-person narrator, distinct from the trio of personae under scrutiny: we start by meeting the mythic "Van Gogh" of popular stereotype, then the self-revelatory "Vincent" reflected in his extensive correspondence, and lastly, the "Imaginary," who embodies our author's speculative fantasies of the lover she was born a century too late to rescue.
An auditorium composed of a compact studio loft in the north Loop ( audience capacity: 20 ) would appear to restrict the scope necessary for so sweeping a spiritual trek, but the Serendipity Theatre Ensemble embraces the levels of intimacy achievable only in such abbreviated quarters. For example, our narrator, upon learning that her hero, during his incarceration in an asylum, attempted suicide by swallowing paint ( in those days, often containing toxic pigments ) , contemplates the notion of "eating color," serving us oranges so that we may share in the described sensation.
The actors exhibit commendable versatility in multiple rolesnotably, Jesse Manson's diverse vocal portraits, ranging from an effulgent art critic to a bourgeois museum guide. Katie Eberhardy's choreography weaves intricate kinetic patterns from a few empty wooden frames, while Amy Buckler's direction imposes order upon an aesthetic all too prone to ecstatic chaos. But even when poised on the edge of dionysic rapture, Veramendi never loses control of her material, steadfastly adhering to her mission as the devoted disciple for whom there are "a thousand whispers in every [ brush ] stroke" and who vows to explore every last one.