We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
My Name Is Pablo Picasso
Redrum- Fort Fringe
Thursday, July 14 at 10 p.m.
Sunday, July 17 at 8:30 p.m.
Thursday July 21 at 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 23 at 8 p.m.
They say: “PARIS /1907: An old fortune teller divines young Picasso’s future. Why do Picasso and his model Fernande fight what he tells them? By what magic can he see the future? Wowed them at Adelaide Arts Festival and Australian National Gallery.”
Sophia’s Take: In the opening tableau of My Name is Pablo Picasso, a model, Fernande, stands nude against the backdrop of a canvas reproduction of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Her arm is crooked behind her head, mimicking the posture of the Lady of Avignon on the left of the painting, the one who stares out blankly at the viewer. It could be sexy, except for the immediacy with which Julia Albertson projects the model’s fatigue and soreness. The young Pablo, played by Arden Moscati, paints with an intense frustration, and little sensitivity to his muse. Right away you get the feeling that you’re in goods hands, and this thought-provoking production, directed by Elaine Meder-Wilgus, doesn’t disappoint.
Fernande soon insists on taking a break and the couple falls into an argument, in general terms over what poverty and sacrifice, in the service of Pablo’s art and ambition, is costing them emotionally. The actors do a good job of bringing individuality to this state of conflict, which is a constant in the life of any artist. Yet, what truly puts the gears of this show in motion is the arrival of the fortune-telling Old Man, played by the perfectly cast Michael Bernosky.
We know instantly that the old man is Picasso at the end of his life, come to visit or haunt his younger self, and reveal what the future has in store. From the moment Bernosky steps on stage the play is his—-his because he offers a wonderful performance, and his because the older Picasso is playwright Mary Gage‘s true subject. The writing he has to work with is disproportionately nuanced in his favor. In some sections Gage nearly reduces Fernande and Pablo to devices used only to provoke Picasso, either through youthful disbelief about what the future holds, or by begging for answers. Moscati works hard to rise to the challenge Gage throws him, but I got little sense of what is emotionally different for Pablo about each new truth he hesitates to believe, why each revelation of the glory and suffering to come is special.
Knowing something about Picasso’s biography adds to the enjoyment of the show, but the play is not inaccessible to those who are unfamiliar. As a portrait of a man reflecting on his life, the piece is wonderful. Gage and this production resist idealizing Picasso. Bernosky embodies Picasso’s strengths and his flaws, his intelligence and passion, his arrogance and raging misogyny. Indeed, Picasso as Gage writes him is as articulate in his anger toward women as in his anger about the bombing of Guernica. There is more than one hateful zinger that elicited audible shock from the audience the night I attended.
Yet hatred, toward others but also toward oneself, is one of the production’s most beautifully delivered themes. This play’s Picasso loathes himself, too. He loathes his search into old age for the perfect woman and the loneliness this has brought him. I’ve never seen a Picasso and thought about the artist’s loneliness, but next time I will look for it. He even loathes his own success. The show captures the complexity of a man who craves glory, yet hates us for our applause. The audience is challenged to question, not take for granted, Picasso’s greatness, the meaning of his life, (or that of any artist) and what emotions there are to see when we look at his work.
See it if: You know little, all, or nothing about the life and times of Pablo Picasso. All you’ll need is curiosity.
Skip it if: You have no interest in Picasso or what his life story can tell us about art.