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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Jeffrey Hatcher's world in microcosm is a glimpse of Pablo Picasso in Paris during World War II being interrogated by a fictional government representative, Miss Fischer. A beautiful woman obsessed with art, she combines two of Picasso's favorite things. Her flimsy mission is to impel Picasso to authenticate one of three unsigned paintings to represent him in Goebbels' burning of "decadent" art.
The 90-minute play at The Geffen Playhouse uses a skillful cat-and-mouse format spiked with Hatcher's trademark humor. The three pictures, painted at different early periods in Picasso's life, reveal something of his life but even more astutely, his passions and personality. The first two underscore a necessity to paint so compelling that friends and family are sacrificed. The third has a political content that Picasso tries to deny.
Fischer, for her part, is a former art critic who has always been enthralled by Picasso's work. Forced to work for the Nazis to preserve her family, she haggles with Picasso to sacrifice one of his paintings for their lives and her family. This fictional episode is the springboard for reflections on art vs. politics, art vs. survival and art as necessity.
The play is staged in the new small Audrey Skirball Kenis theatre at the Geffen. When the corrugated stage curtain rises, the audience finds itself facing a cage which represents the vault where the action takes place. On the other side of the vault sits the rest of the audience. At first it's disconcerting to see them on the other side of the actors but they soon evaporate like the famous fourth wall.
Perhaps because of the way the stage is structured, Francois-Pierre Couture has chosen to go for a set that looks more like a storage area than an underground vault. Wooden walls and carelessly stacked pictures project the disdain the regime sees in its "decadent" artists. As we know, Goebbels' views were not shared by other Nazi officials, such as Goering, who plundered art collections for themselves.
A blistering performance by Peter Michael Goetz illuminates Picasso. He has the familiar mannerisms down pat, the pouting lips that purse and release, as if composing words with the same originality he brings to his art. Goetz projects the power and sensuality of Picasso. Roma Downey of the haunting Gaelic cheekbones brings a steely vulnerability to the conflicted Miss Fischer. Gilbert Cates keeps the action as moving and involving as possible but this is one of Hatcher's plays, like the never produced Manila which was given a staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference, that is a waterfall of words through which dramatic action has to force its way. Hatcher's most dramatic moment is the play's ending.
Editor's Note: This is one of those small plays that has proved that it has legs to carry it to many stages since it's premiere in Philadelphia in 2001. To read that review, and the follow-up when it moved to New York go here.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater