GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, New Leaf Theatre, at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. Writer-director Morgan Leavitt’s powerful adaptation of Susan Vreeland’s luminous novel traces the history of a Vermeer painting as it travels from owner to owner, a story told mostly through melancholy interior monologues. The play moves backward in time, beginning in the present with Cornelius (Jack Rucker), a loner who keeps the painting hidden in his study, and ending with Vermeer (Brandon Ray). Compelled to paint though his children are starving, he captures on canvas the rich inner life of his daughter Magdalena (Ryan Driscoll).

In Leavitt’s version Magdalena wanders through all three stories (though there are six owners in the book), which gives the play a sense of continuity. At the same time, Girl in Hyacinth Blue gently but provocatively details the very different ways people experience art. Some identify so strongly with the subject that they can’t bear to part with the painting: in 1717 Saskia (a vibrant Anne-Marie Welty) tries to hold onto it instead of selling it to buy the food her family desperately needs. Others, like Cornelius, value it solely for its physical beauty, its extraordinary technique. In the end, however, every story suggests that people are more important than objects, no matter how gorgeous.