One of the great ecstasies in life is looking into another’s eyes and realizing that words being spoken are a mere veil for what’s actually being communicated.
Pablo Picasso used a similar device to great effect in his groundbreaking art, and the playwright Jeffrey Hatcher does it too, both in content and practice, in A Picasso at the Salem Theatre Company through May 19.
The STC’s intimate black box space has been transformed for this production by Bruce Greenwald into a vault beneath the streets of Paris, c. 1941. The result is transporting, and the most effective use of this quirky space I’ve seen. Considering Greenwald was responsible for designing it in the first place, that makes a lot of sense.
For an intermission-less 80 minutes, this dank space under the streets of occupied Paris, is occupied by two of the STC’s most beloved: the inimitable Picasso, played by the inimitable Stephen Cooper, and the militantly efficient Ms. Fischer, a German cultural attache, by the hard-as-nails Linda Goetz.
What follows could easily be construed as an art history course. There are lots of facts, here, and though most of us already know a fair bit about the subjects covered, there’s yet more to understand. We learn about Picasso’s womanizing ways, the German pre-War salon society, and are offered an explication of the masterwork “Guernica.” It can be rather cerebral.
At least, those are the words spoken.
There’s also something more intimate and relational and universally human happening here. The relationship between Picasso and Ms. Fischer is complicated and potentially electrifying.
Yes, Picasso is a larger-than-life historical figure, but he also was a very sexy man. Indeed, the Gestapo are universally noted for their inhumanity, but Ms. Fischer is very much a human.
When the two realize these things about each other, sparks fly. And, though we know it probably would be polite to look away, we can’t help but keep staring ever more intently at the understandings being revealed before us.
Watching A Picasso might be a bit like looking at a Picasso. We can acknowledge technique, identify the context, and describe the subject, but we won’t find ourselves in the presence of genius until we start thinking about what all those things might mean. Who are these people and why are they sharing space with each other?
When we get ourselves to that space, good luck looking away.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s A Picasso
April 26 – May 19
Thur – Sat at 7:30 p.m.
Sun at 5:00 p.m.
Tickets: $12 – $22
Cover photo: Summoned to a vault beneath the streets of German-occupied Paris, Pablo Picasso (Stephen Cooper) must defend his art from condemnation at the hands of Nazi cultural attaché, Miss Fischer (Linda Goetz) in Jeffrey Hatcher’s cat-and-mouse thriller, A Picasso – on stage April 26 through May 19 at the Salem Theatre Company. Photo by Fogle
Jonathan Simcosky is Art*Throb’s business/managing editor.