Driving Nicholas Wright’s fascinating play is our knowledge of the future: Vincent van Gogh will become a great artist, and his talent won’t be recognized in his lifetime. In 1873 London, however, young Vincent — portrayed with brave crudeness by Brian Cowden — is a jerk. He professes his undying love at first sight for Eugenie (Clare Mahoney), the daughter of his grieving widow landlady Ursula (Mary Martello), and then launches a surprising new seduction. As we learn early on, “Nothing in this house is what it seems.” Director Kate Galvin’s production is exquisite in every way, from a perfect cast led by Martello to Thom Weaver’s richly detailed kitchen set and masterful lighting, particularly impressive in his seldom-used “alleyway,” or two-sided, configuration of the Walnut Street Theatre’s flexible 80-seat Studio on 3. John Jarboe, as working-class artisan Sam Plowman, outshines the impulsive, unpleasantly frank Vincent in most ways, and Liz Filios is brilliantly fiery as Vincent’s sister, visiting from Denmark to spy on their family’s behalf. This gripping play about love, class and art shows how all four characters contribute to Vincent’s seemingly impossible, yet inevitable, growth from callow youth to immortal artist.
Through March 10, $30-$36, Walnut Street Theatre Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., 215-574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org.