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Theater review: ‘A Weekend With Pablo Picasso’ at Los Angeles Theatre Center

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Anyone expecting a politely informative docudrama from Herbert Siguenza’s one-man show “A Weekend With Pablo Picasso” is in for a shock — in the best possible way.

Granted, the piece shares some elements with other solo portraits of historical figures. Siguenza, known principally as a co-founder of the groundbreaking Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, turns in an assured, charismatic and well researched performance as the complicated Spanish expatriate who became the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Presented by the Latino Theatre Company, Siguenza’s play finds Picasso living in France in 1957 at the height of his celebrity and facing an unexpected high-profile commission to crank out six paintings and three vases over the course of a single weekend (“Who do you think I am — Dali?” he grouses on the phone to his art dealer). Picasso has grudgingly allowed a group of art students — the audience — to stay at his home/studio while his family is away, a serviceable premise allowing Siguenza to directly engage us with jokes, stories and insights into the artistic life culled from Picasso’s interviews and writings.

Siguenza’s secret weapon, however, is his talent as a painter in his own right. A lifelong admiration for Picasso led him to create the show, and his ability to paint credibly in his hero’s style makes for a visual tour de force as the commissioned artworks come to life. Some of Siguenza’s faux Picassos are painted in real time at each performance, others created in advance but take shape through evolving rear projections in a nod to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 documentary, “The Mystery of Picasso”; Victoria Petrovich’s video montages also delve into biographical and historical events, as well as Picasso’s dreams.
Todd Salovey’s savvy, stylish staging employs Giulio Cesare Perrone’s colorful artist-studio-as-playpen set to reinforce Picasso’s passion to see the world through a child’s eyes. Shades of childish petulance also erupt in Siguenza’s mercurial performance, though his allusion to women as being either “goddesses or doormats” only hints at the artist’s capacity for reprehensible behavior. Siguenza’s play could risk showing more of his subject’s dark side, but it’s a stellar success at illuminating some formative events of Picasso’s life and drawing us into his artistic world.

-– Philip Brandes


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