"Vincent" Plays at AS220

The play tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo.

These days, images of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are ubiquitous: you can buy a print of “Starry Night” from Target for $9.99.

But during his lifetime, the Dutch artist who after his death became one of the world’s best-known creators, sold just one painting. While prolific, he struggled with poverty and mental illness before he died at age thirty-seven from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Throughout the turmoil of his life, Van Gogh was close to his younger brother, Theo, an art dealer. The hundreds of letters Van Gogh wrote him — detailing his work, his frustrations, his insecurities and his need for money — tell the story of his life and are the basis of a play called “Vincent” that is now playing at AS220.

Written by Leonard Nimoy, the one-man touring production stars James Briggs as Theo Van Gogh and is directed by Brant Pope. It shows the development of Vincent's talent alongside his torments. Alternating between love and frustration, Theo recalls how his brother “was a lover of God and a lover of love and of course a lover of art.” And how he thought he failed at all three.

Vincent “attacked” his work, whether as an evangelist in a mine in Belgium or later in his life, painting a canvas. Born exactly a year after another son who was named Vincent was stillborn, Vincent often tussled with his father, who considered at one point admitting him to an insane asylum.

Against a stream of images of Vincent’s drawings and paintings, Theo details the family’s frustration when he fell in love with someone he described as a “woman of the streets.” Still dependent on his family for money, Vincent’s letters to his brother grew increasingly desperate.

Eventually he left the women and her children and spent more time with other artists, lived on bread and coffee and spent his money on paints and models and canvasses. His relationship with fellow artist Paul Gauguin began his downfall, Theo argues. A fight between them led to the famous incident where Vincent cut off his ear and delivered it to a brothel they frequented.

By his final days, people in the town where he lived thought he was mad, though when he was well, he produced two canvases a day.

“Vincent” is the artist's story, but it is also his brother's. Even if you know the story, it’s worth seeing.

“Vincent” is playing at AS220’s 95 Empire Theater. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for seniors and students. You can get them at starrynighttheater.com, 413-344-0240. 95 Empire St., Providence, as220.org.