The play is set in Villa Helma, a boarding house in the town of Bussum, the Netherlands.
Johanna Van Gogh Bonger (Jo) Age 30-38
Widow of Theo Van Gogh, (brother of Vincent Van Gogh
Willemien Van Gogh (Wil or Willy) Age 30-38
(sister of Theo and Vincent Van Gogh)
Voice of Vincent Van Gogh, the painter
PRONUNCIATION of NAMES: W is pronounced like V. V is pronounced like F. J pronounced like Y.
Theo is pronounced Tayo!
A slash at the end of a line followed by a slash at the beginning of the next are used to denote an interruption.
During the play there could be projection of Vincent’s paintings, drawings, letters with sketches on a large screen.
Piano music between scenes could be “Scenes From Childhood” by Robert Schumann.
SET: Office/parlor of Jo and young Vincent’s home in Bussum, Netherlands. Above the fireplace hangs “The Potato Eaters.” Other walls covered with Vincent Van Gogh paintings including, “The almond trees in blossom.” On Vincent’s easel is his painting, “The Artist on his way to Work.”
A desk and an oil lamp lighting its surface. On a work-table. many string-tied packets of letters along with a pile of domestic linens. An ironing board with irons adjacent to the fireplace.
Layers of Vincent’s framed paintings leaning against the walls.
THE TIME: February, 1892
Jo and Wil stand at worktable, both still wearing austere black for mourning. Jo unfolding and opening letters. From the pile of linens, Wil folds napkins carefully into triangles.
WIL: Is this the way you want them, Jo? I noticed that some have holes in them.
JO: (as if counting) three hundred ninety nine. Yes, I am aware, Wil. Just put them aside for mending later. Please.
WIL: I thought you wanted me to help with…all the letters.
JO: Of course I do! (as if counting) Four hundred and five. Don’t let me lose my count. Four hundred and/
WIL: /I’m sorry, Jo!
JO: No, no. it’s alright. Isn’t this just so amazing! These two brothers writing to each other all their/ lives.
WIL: Just starting after Vincent left home. But they wrote to me, too, JO!
Jo stops to look at Wil
JO: Yes…of course they did! To all the members of their family.
WIL: My family.
JO: Of Course. But isn’t it a shame that Vincent saved hardly any letters from my Theo.
WIL: Because Vincent never had his own home to keep them in. And besides, Theo didn’t write so beautifully.
JO: He certainly did! To me, at least! (pause) Those 4 months when we were engaged and he was furnishing our new apartment in Paris. Every detail about the drapes and the wallpaper trying so hard to make it so I would be happy. The dishes and the cookware in the kitchen …he was so/
WIL: /Yes the cookware and the dishes… Theo wrote well about everyday practical things.
JO: Oh Wil, you are right! Theo did not write as eloquently as Vincent. (pause) I remember that first lonely evening after Theo had to stay in the hospital. I started reading some of Vincent’s letters for the first time.
WIL: Will we ever know exactly what caused Theo to become so paralyzed? It was all so sudden!
JO: Haven’t we discussed this enough, Wil! Please!
WIL: Did I tell you that I keep having this dream about him? Standing up, exactly as he once was, as if resurrected.
JO: That’s surely how we must try to remember Theo. (pause) But Wil, I was trying to tell you how I went searching for Theo in Vincent’s letters. I drank in every word, every detail. I read them over and over to find Theo. But instead I saw so clearly the figure of Vincent before me.
WIL: Yes…trudging along the road near our home, carrying his easel and blank canvas. In his shabby blue coat, all faded and patched…he never cared about how he looked.
JO: That very painting right here…on his easel.
They both look up at that painting. “The Artist on his way to work.” (incidentally, this painting was destroyed in a bombing during WWII)
JO: Theo put it like that for Vincent’s memorial in Paris. And I plan to always keep this painting exactly the same way, right on his easel.
WIL: I do wish I could have this painting for myself, Jo.
PAUSE as they keep looking.
JO: But you have something even better! The vision of it in your memory. The way you just described it to me. So beautifully
WIL: Do you think so, really!
JO: Yes I do, Willy.
They are both quiet as they more intently carry out their activities. Unfolding and folding. Wil walks over to the ironing board with some linens. Looks at the paintings on the walls.
WIL: He painted so many! Some of them very worthy, I think.
JO: Can you imagine for one moment how I felt when I came back to The Netherlands last year? Seeing the indifference people showed. Laughing and making fun of his paintings! I tried so hard to explain what Vincent was trying to get us to see. But they just scoffed at the whole idea. Even my own family kept telling me to throw them all out.
WIL: Maybe some of them. You could/.
JO: /Absolutely not! Theo was insistent that we keep everything together as if it were an important collection
WIL: Theo would know best. But really, most people don’t understand anything about art.
JO: That’s why it is so important that they must read Vincent’s letters. Why they must be published! Then they will understand.
WIL: If that ever comes to be! (pause as she looks up at the painting over the mantel) Perhaps you should hang something more cheerful above the mantel. Those colors are like dirty mud.
JO: To me, the colors are so rich! And I believe “THE POTATO EATERS.” is one of his very best! When he was just starting to paint. Here…let me find the letter he wrote Theo about it…back when he was working in that dreary place in Belgium. Look! It’s right here, let me read it.
WIL: I see he’s even dated this letter….1885.
JO: (reading) “What I have tried hard to convey is the sense that these people sitting in the lamplight, picking up their potatoes… VOICE OF VINCENT: from the dish and eating them with their hands, have actually worked the land, so that my picture gives dignity to manual labour and to the food they have won for themselves by honest toil. I’ve tried to make it expressive of a way of life quite different from that of cultivated people like ourselves. So I don’t at all expect people to like it…”
JO: You see! The earthy colors, the ochres, raw and burnt umbers he used. They are very deliberate!
WIL: You think you know so much about him!
JO: I am learning more every day…Especially as I read through all the letters he wrote to Theo!
WIL: (emotionally) But you didn’t know my brothers as I did, Jo! I, who have known Vincent and Theo all my life since I was a small child. Following them everywhere, begging them to take me places. Yearning for them to come home! My own, my own dearest brothers.
JO: Of course I don’t, Willy. (they embrace in consolation.) But remember, we have little Vincent now. We must work very hard so that he will know their legacy. (pause) Now ...can you please go and prepare him for bedtime while I keep on working. I know he would like that so very much.
Wil: (a bit weepy) exits leaving JO at her desk opening her old diary.