Pablo Picasso is a man in constant motion. A spry man of 76 and living on the pristine coastline of France in the 1950s, Picasso is very aware of his celebrity, carrying an ego the size of the Eiffel Tower. He doesn’t pay for bread that is delivered to his house, because the delivery boy finds more value in the signed check than he does in the money the check can generate.
Picasso certainly finds glee in his stature, living in a playpen that any true artist can only dream of. He makes art out of dinner rolls, shoes and sticks. And in the midst of it all, Picasso is a man of wisdom, sharing constant nuggets of gold with his very unwelcome houseguests who sit in the chairs in front of him.
San Jose Stage’s production of “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” is a delectable, 80-minute tour-de-force by Herbert Siguenza, a longtime favorite of mine since his days with Bay Area/Los Angeles comedy troupe Culture Clash. In this production, he has transformed his body into a heavier version of a man more than 20 years his senior, rockin’ a serious friar’s haircut. He stomps heartily around his studio, faced with a gargantuan task. In the world of high stakes art, he must come up with six new paintings and three vases by Monday morning for a client. There is one big problem – he is Picasso, not Salvador Dali, he bemoans. And with unexpected guests cramping his style, the task is near impossible.
Siguenza’s writing sits squarely and surely in the hands of director Todd Salovey, the longtime associate artistic director at San Diego Rep, where the show went through its workshop process. What works magnificently well is the play’s fluidity, a constant feeling that we are in the presence of a master.
Siguenza’s motion contributes greatly to this feeling. He moves metaphorically and literally like a matador, attacking canvas with reckless abandon. Of an age where many have settled into smooth retirement, Picasso only proves that he has gotten better in his golden years. There is still a fire in his belly, a man on a quest for continued greatness, his mind sharper and wiser. After all, as he says so eloquently, “Your work must be the ultimate seduction, the ultimate pleasure. Never forget that.”
Siguenza’s acting chops have always been extremely refined. Fellow Clash members Ric Salinas always played a wonderful clown and Richard Montoya handles his characters with flair and flash. Siguenza has been strongest with his personal characterizations. Whether it was famed math teacher Jaime Escalante or revolutionary leader Che Guevara, Siguenza continues to prove he is right at home channeling those characters such as Picasso, a man who exists in a world of multiple dimensions.
What stands out so beautifully is the depth of the writing. Siguenza has penned an account of a man so clear about who he is, despite his very public life. There are certainly references to a few of the many, many loves and lusts of his life, and insight into one of his most important works, “Guernica.” And while he certainly did not pull punches in the ways of speaking about his rivals (Jackson Pollock – “His paintings annoy me.”), he also gives so much insight into his process. These moments made the show feel as if the audience is part of a master class, a man fully in touch with his art form, sharing his insight from the tip of his brush.
There were his observations on fear – “The biggest thing for a painter to fear is a blank canvas.” Observations on what art is – “Art is a lie that makes us regain the truth.” And observations on the higher calling painters must adhere to – “Painting is a blind man’s profession – a painter does not paint what he sees but what he feels.”
And what Siguenza feels as he paints is the ace in the hole for the show’s brilliance. It is clear that he has spent much time perfecting the enigmatic style of Picasso’s prolific body of work. Creating this art in real time confirms that this is not an actor simply playing a role, but an actor who embodies a role. These real time works of art, in addition to some wonderful projections by designer Victoria Petrovich, and a dazzling set and costume plot by Giulio Cesare Perrone mightily showcase the zeitgeist of Picasso’s world.
I have been fortunate to have seen some of Picasso’s work in both New York and Chicago, passing the Chicago Picasso sculpture in the downtown part of the Windy City plenty of times. What is striking is the constant motion the paintings seem to express. This is what makes this production solid. Like Picasso’s work, the play is in constant motion, which greatly unifies all aspects of the production. And that makes perfect sense. After all, Picasso said, “If my paintings stop breathing, I would die.” With a man who lived into his 90s, and work to fill galleries for days, Picasso ensured his immortality for generations. It only took me a weekend as his houseguest to figure that out.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
San Jose Stage Company presents “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”
Written and performed by Herbert Siguenza
Directed by Todd Salovey
The Word: A tour de force by seasoned performer Siguenza provides insight into one of the most influential and prolific artists and icons of the 20th century.
Stars: 5 out of 5
San Jose Stage Company
490 S. First Street
San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $20 – $65
For tickets, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org