I’ve always been wary of theatrical biographies of famous people. Too often they assume you already know, say, James Joyce or Ludwig Van B., Ty Cobb or Rosa Parks. So the bios skip past the necessary journalism and heap on the juicy anecdotes. You often end up wondering: great, but just who was this person?
The other side’s as iffy: how to present “facts” in a subtle way? And avoid the “Google’s-eye” view, which simply lists them and kills the pace.
More often than not, Herbert Siguenza’s Weekend with Pablo Picasso solves these problems. One reason, he looks a lot like the 76-year-old artistic genius. The sun-tanned body – as if he spent his last seven decades in an Orgone Accumulator - the white boxer shorts, the bald head, shining like a globe, and the pearl-white curtain of hair circling from ear to ear.
Siguenza also struts like Picasso. This is probably how Napoleon might have walked, or Alexander of Macedon, not to mention Yul Brynner in The King and I.
The difference: Siguenza acts not as a conqueror but a creator of worlds. You half expect this Picasso, since his ego was so unfettered, to say “I am that I am.” And mean it.
Add to this: Siguenza can paint and turns out Picasso-like shapes and squiggles at top speed.
It’s 1957. Russia is invading Hungary: tanks rumble on the streets of Budapest. Picasso’s at Le Californe, his studio in the south of France: tall ceiling, white canvases stacked here and there. He has a weekend to do six paintings and three vases. Can he?
Though he craves solitude (“I wouldn’t wish my celebrity on anyone”) he discovers he’s being watched – a lot. The audience, he tells us, is “students” come to watch. The notion – privacy vs. over 150 observers – makes little sense. You just have to go with it.
He paints. He talks. He touches on known biographical facts, sometimes integrated into the narrative, sometimes mere lists. He confesses a secret, a deep one, but doesn’t react to its gravity - and seems more interested in our reaction.
Though he acknowledges an acute sensitivity to all things, it’s clear he has a Picasso-centric view of the world. Including his lovers.
The paintings get produced, almost as background. But one, in particular, shows the process in detail. Thanks to Victoria Petrovich’s vivid projections, Siguenza paints two eyes on a blank canvas. They grow and change and metamorphose and re-configure, slowly, strangely, unexpectedly into a Picasso. Light and dark emphases shift. What was here’s now over there. Hair comes on the head, then off. Then back on. Just one eye. Expanded. At various points the painting looks complete. Sign it, Pablo, and move on. But no.
As Salieri discovers when Mozart composes before him (and Mozart says, “now we put in the fire”), it becomes clear that Pablo P. has far greater artistic game than we do.
The projections are excellent with one exception. Picasso talks a lot about his “Guernica,” which he painted in 1937 after Italian and German planes bombed the Basque village in Northern Spain. The videos don’t pull back for a master-shot of the masterpiece.
Throughout Siguenza’s an engaging performer. The highs outweigh the lows, which a blue pencil could excise and quicken the pace.
[Note: the three performances on October 5 and 6 will be in Spanish]
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown, playing through October 6.