First I spent an adventurous “week with Marilyn” and now this, a weekend with the colorful master himself, Pablo Picasso. It seems we can’t let go of our creative legends. We need them- probably just as much as they needed us. And I walked away from last night’s world premiere of Center Rep’s A Weekend with Pablo Picasso more than just entertained. I was inspired… to create. After all, it’s what we do here at Stark Insider: create, create, create. Or at least we try as much. As Picasso tells us in yet another in a series of memorable sound bites, “Action is the foundation for all success!”
The show’s premise is positively brilliant: we’re a (somewhat unwelcome) guest staying in Picasso’s home and studio in 1957 as he attempts to paint 6 canvases and 3 vases for a client by Monday morning — an impossible opportunity to get a first hand look at a prolific master at work. Who do they think I am, Dali?! We witness the creative process in action, up-close, and watch as the now 76-year-old painter perpetually fights off interruption — be it a phone call, unexpected delivery, or just our very presence — pontificates about life and art, and recounts stories of love, friendship (Matisse) and food. If you didn’t know Picasso, the man, before, you will after this thoroughly engaging 80 minutes of radiant theater.
“If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the good in doing it?!”
At this point in his life, Picasso is reluctantly benefitting from his earlier creative success (the blue period, Guernica) which now affords him the luxury of pushing the envelope. Doing the same thing twice: c’est impossible! He tells us about the time a woman on the street asked for a portrait. He quickly whipped one off there and then. She loved the piece… but not the price, “But it only took you 3 minutes!” He replied, “No. It took my whole life” Each picture, he explains, is a vial of his blood. You understand me yes? he asks us.
There are minor references to the Spaniard’s political life as a communist and various associations which included producing works for causes (La Guerre, Hungary). The weekend though is primarily about witty barbs, and celebration, for love, for art, so these more serious currents of his life are downplayed.
Herbert Siguenza, who wrote the show, delights as Picasso in as impressive a one-man show as I’ve seen in a long time. He brings a likable quality to the performance, and I’m guessing intentionally sheds the real master’s crankiness. In that regard, Siguenza plays the master as more of a chariacture with a heavy dose of his own personality and style; it results in a portrayal that rings true, and it does help that he breaks the fourth wall with ease, creating a dynamic with his house guests (“my wife’s cousins!”).
“Painting is the nearest we can get to the truth.”
Perhaps most impressive of all of Siguenza’s talents — singing, dancing, storytelling — is his ability to paint. This man can paint. Sometimes expressive, beautiful, other times explosive, violent. And before our very eyes. In fact all of the set pieces decorating the studio, located just outside of Cannes in Southern France, have been created by the actor.
Stolen paintings?! Have Siguenza paint some replacements!
Donned in a mask and cape, Sigeunza makes like a bullfighter in one scene and attacks the canvas. There are explosions of black, and then red. It ends in death. But what could be more beautiful?
Pablo was one quotable guy apparently. And he comes at us in bursts about life’s lessons. There is no grey area. Picasso knows. At times it can be hard to keep up with the rapid fire assault of quotes, parables and metaphors. And because this is a one man show, we don’t get an understanding of his relationships beyond just art (though his wife and daughter, en route to Paris, are referenced). These are minor quibbles because this show is primarily centered on the artistic process, and the man that changed the face of modern art as we know it.
Picasso tells us that our work “must be the ultimate seduction, the ultimate pleasure.” In my weekend with Picasso I saw what happens when a life is not a dichotomy – when it is pure expression. It makes for a stimulating, engaging evening of theater.
A Weekend with Pablo Picasso
4 out of 5 stars (Smashing)
Center Rep Theatre
Directed by Todd Salovey
Written and Performed by Herbert Siguenza
Margaret Lesher Theatre, Walnut Creek
October 21 – November 19, 2011