Written and performed by Herbert Siguenza
Directed by Todd Salovey
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Sept. 7 – Oct. 6, 2013
After watching A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, I felt something was missing, which troubled me. It was an enjoyable performance. Herbert Siguenza, who both wrote and performed the one-man-play, was delightful as the iconic painter. For 80 minutes, he laughed, danced, painted and generally cavorted on stage. He was, as usual, a joy to see. So why did I walk away with the uneasy feeling that I really didn’t like the play?
The answer came to me, as it often does, at 4 a.m. While the show was funny, interesting and, at times, enlightening, there was no struggle. There was nothing to show us the man inside.
Set in Picasso’s studio in 1957, the play begins with a Friday afternoon phone call from his art dealer. A rich American collector wants six paintings and three vases by Sunday. At first, Picasso says no—until he hears how much he will be paid. It’s good for a laugh but, just like that, our iconoclastic genius has been sold to the highest bidder.
From there, we witness Picasso filling the order while discussing his life. The stream of consciousness anecdotes are, again, high on amusement but short on insight. He misses Spain, but does not elaborate on the gut-wrenching decision to leave his homeland forever. He stayed in Paris during the German occupation—a Communist living under Nazis—and yet we get no sense of danger. He says he wanted to work. The show dwells, quite rightly, on Guernica, his masterpiece of masterpieces. And though the images haunt his dreams, we get very little sense of the emotional toll it took to paint it.
There are more: his early struggles, complications with women, family illnesses. Siguenza’s Picasso is cavalier about all these things. If there are emotional insights to be had, he’s not giving them up.
This is really a shame, because almost everything else in this production works. The direction is crisp, the set playfully chaotic. Paintings are projected on canvases and Siguenza does a nice job sketching out the early designs. But even then, we get no sense of struggle. He decides to paint, and he paints. It’s as if he were writing a check.
As these thoughts roll through my head, I start playing devil’s advocate. Perhaps this was Picasso as he actually was: cavalier, irreverent, slippery on the details. But then I recalled a riff from the show, in which Picasso talks about painting the truth of a subject, rather than merely displaying its appearance. I wish the playwright had taken those words to heart.