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Vincent in Brixton

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, casting by Daniel Swee, at the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45 St., NYC, March 6-May 4.

There is nothing flashy or "theatrical" about Nicholas Wright's "Vincent in Brixton," the latest imported "snob hit" to arrive on our shores from Britain via Lincoln Center Theater. There is only the emergence of an artistic sensibility amidst crushing provincialism, and that is its great triumph.

Set in designer Tim Hatley's detailed and crude kitchen in a London slum (the Brixton of the title), this simple yet elegant work details the artistic coming of age of Vincent Van Gogh. It is an historical fact that the young Van Gogh traveled from his native Holland and spent time in the British capital while working as an art dealer. Wright imagines an affair between the genius-to-be and his older landlady, a passionate woman frustrated by her mundane surroundings. She sees the potential of her tenant-lover and pours her soul into the task of nurturing it.

Director Richard Eyre creates a believable world of people striving for the ecstasy of art while dinners are prepared and floors are washed. He is aided by Hatley's rough-hewn set and costumes and Peter Mumford's breathtakingly realistic lighting.

Dutch actor Jochum ten Haaf has the unenviable task of playing the unsure, sometimes arrogant Van Gogh searching for his calling without getting to do the showy "mad" scenes of his later years (which Kirk Douglas and Tim Roth sunk their teeth into in film bios of the artist: "Lust for Life" and "Vincent & Theo," respectively). He pulls it off with masterly restraint.

Likewise Clare Higgins, who won the triple crown of British acting awards (Olivier, Evening Standard, and Critics' Circle) for her performance as the mature muse-mistress, relies on half-completed gestures and sidelong glances to convey the longing for beauty amidst the washbasin and crockery. Sarah Drew, Pete Starrett, and Liesel Matthews complete this subtle and sublime cast.

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