“Visionary Man” is as large, loud and lively as a tent revival.
Which suits it fine.
J.B. Murray was an impoverished, retired farm hand of 70, living in a rural shack in his native Georgia. One day while working his potato patch, the illiterate father of 11 had a vision. And in his vision God told him to paint, and in his painting show “them ones in hell.” Before his death at 80 in 1988 Murray would go on to create nearly a thousand paintings, and achieve a certain prominence as a folk artist.
“Visionary Man” tells the story of Murray’s (Jimmer Bolden) relationship with the young doctor (Will North) who befriended him and was instrumental in bringing Murray’s work to the attention of art scholars.
The show has all the nuance of a Baptist minister slinging fire and brimstone before Bible belt churchgoers. The characters fall into two categories; those who accept the Holy Spirit and those misguided souls who will come around once they finally do accept the Holy Spirit.
The play does not delve into the nature of creativity or question that fine line between devotion and delusion. But that is not the show Mary Padgelek and Tom Coleman sought to stage. They intended to present a Sunday school story with song and dance, a toe-tapping testimonial validating the beliefs of true believers, and for that insular audience this production will have them hallelujah-ing at the curtain call.
For the rest of us, I would advise caution.
Not that “Visionary Man” doesn’t have its moments that transcend the pulpit. The work is at its best when “humor” wins out over “holy” as in the first act highlight “I’m So Glad I’m a Righteous Man” (performed with great panache by Yorke Fryer, Sequoia Houston, Courtney Turner and Stephanie Martin).
Musically, the show is hit and miss, but the tally favors the hit column with “There is a Blindness” (a tidy duet between Bolden and Fryer) perhaps topping that list. The choreography by Ali North is also a mixed bag going from the perfectly precise to the somewhat silly.
Coleman, who shares credit for the book with Padgelek, shows his strength in the staging and not the writing. The cast, with few exceptions, comes across as singers rather than actors, but their enthusiasm in their performance shines forth and is definitely infectious.
Bottom line: “Visionary Man” is a simple tale sweetly told with sincerity and good will for all. And nowadays that’s almost a miracle in and of itself.
Hudson Mainstage Theater
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Performances:July 26 – Aug. 31
Thursday at 8 p.m.: July 24 (preview), 31; Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28
Fridays at 8 p.m.: July 25 (preview); Aug. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 26 (opening); Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Sundays at 3 p.m.: July 27; Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
General Admission: $28
Students with valid ID: $15