Thursday, October 8, 2009

'a picasso' review

My review of the Miner's Alley production of 'A Picasso' came out today.

The link above is to the Post's edited version, but I'm pasting the original below--if you compare the lede sentences you'll see why. :)

Here's the Post's edited version (which is fine, by the way. It may be better than my original, simply because it isn't so wordy.)

'A hundred years before folks like Dane Cook and Tila Tequila used MySpace to build careers based on the collective idiocy and short attention span of America, there was another self-promoter extraordinaire, one who made them look like pikers.'

But here's the way I turned it in. I dunno--I just like the word 'odious,' I guess.



A hundred years before Dane Cook and the only slightly more odious Tila Tequila used MySpace to build careers based on the collective idiocy and short attention span of America, there was another self-promoter extraordinaire, one who made them look like pikers.

His name was Pablo Picasso--er, kind of.

Not only was he a master of recreating himself and his art every few years--including his very name, which was actually Ruiz--he also had an incredible talent for leaving behind a scorched-earth swath of broken friendships, betrayed wives, and suicidal mistresses.

Bastard or genius or both, his life and career have been exhaustively dissected. But playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has nonetheless found an interesting if hypothetical moment upon which to build a taut, two-character play, “A Picasso,” now showing at Miner’s Alley in Golden.

It’s 1941, and Picasso (Chris Kendall) is living in Nazi-occupied Paris. There, he is unable to show his “decadent” art, but as a Spanish expatriate, neither was he required to serve in the Spanish Civil War, nor compelled to fight for France.

These (non) loyalties are part and parcel of who the man is, the preservation of self being one of his prime motivators. But his tenuous equilibrium is about to be upset by a meeting with a Gestapo agent, Miss Fischer, played by Paige L. Larson. She has sought the artist because the Reich is in possession of three drawings that may or may not be genuine Picassos, and she asks him to authenticate them.

In short order we discover that the Nazis intend to throw an art opening that involves gasoline and matches, and one of Picasso’s works is invited.

Thus the stakes are raised, and the life-and-death struggle begins, for as Picasso says, “If you burn a Picasso, you burn Picasso!”

His clever retorts aside--according to Hatcher, the great man crammed a lifetime of memorable quotes into one 80-minute conversation--Kendall’s portrayal is utterly believable. From his first nervous moments before his interrogator arrives (sit? Or stand?) to slipping easily into the confident Picasso persona, all power and lust and child-like impulse, to his passionate, tearful explication on various pieces and how they relate to his life, we never doubt his authenticity.

As his antithesis, Larson’s Miss Fischer is every bit as genuine, her Teutonic crispness and position exuding an equal if opposite power. Immediately in command, she strides into the basement room where Picasso waits (standing, finally) along with dozens of confiscated paintings and drawings. Her purple woolen suit is itchy even from 20 feet away, and any trace of sexuality seems to have been scrubbed from her demeanor with the exactitude of an obsessive-compulsive with a Brillo pad and a guilty conscience.

But as opposite as the two characters seem to be--the wild, sex-mad artist devoid of conscience, and the precise, regimented agent, casually dismissive of “queers” and Jews--the reveals Hatcher has written into the play are impressive, as is the way the cast handles them. Little by little they show us the layers beneath the two-dimensional explanations for who these people might be, and our opinions of them must be refined again and again.

Under the direction of Robert Kramer, the tension builds nicely, keeping the audience guessing as to who will eventually win--if anyone can be said to win--the power struggle between these two fearsomely strong opponents.
There is a beautiful, telling anecdote in the play about artists using a mirror to paint portraits rather than using direct observation, in order to ensure that the subject doesn’t change upon being observed--a sort of Schrödinger's cat theory for art.

That is exactly what Kendall and Larson have done so well here, through the equally magnificent words of Hatcher: they have held up an oddly-angled mirror to an over-examined, larger-than-life, near-fictionalized Artiste with a capital A, and shown us the man as well as the artist from a different perspective.

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