It is a rare occasion when I find myself believing an actor is in fact the character they are playing. Years of being behind the scenes paired with the frequency of theater that I see has certainly affected my ability to give myself over to a performance easily and hardly every completely, especially when the part being played is a historical figure with a reputation that is already quite defined. In San Jose Stage Company’s mounting of A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, a bit of a miracle seems to have occurred. This Princess seemingly found herself in profound dialogue with THE Pablo Picasso.
I know it seems impossible, but from the moment the lights came up, I willingly, unabashedly fell under his spell. By minute 20 I saw nothing even remotely strange about my intentions to hail a time machine and move to 1957 France just to be closer to him. Some minutes after that, I had somehow committed to live vicariously through him whatever it took, devising ways to open my eyes and see what and how he sees. Yes, yes, it appears I drank the Picasso Kool-Aid early and often, but then if you didn’t want to adopt this man inside of a few seconds, I wager you may be soulless and without a heart. By the end, by the bow, I was reminded for the first time in 75 minutes there was an actor on stage, one who was not named Pablo Picasso. This is certainly a feat of considerable talent and craft. This is art at its most seductive and for me most enjoyable.
At its core, this is a wonderfully engaging, humorous and intelligent look into the intimate creative process of one of the world’s most famous artists. It’s structured cleverly and richly and though it requires little to no knowledge about the actual artist to fully enjoy it, any knowledge you do have certainly enhances your experience. This isn’t a history lesson, but rather a His Story, one told with canvasses and confidences, joy and candor and of course lots of art being made on stage while you watch. There’s a sparkle and a passion, as well as a profoundly simple and positive wisdom in this script as well as Picasso’s delivery. I left with easily a dozen new phrases, poetic revelations that felt fundamental to my own life philosophies, but somehow had never been articulated so perfectly before that moment. It is a spectacular blend of panache, unexpected kookiness, universal truths, firm but lighthearted aspirations, and personal insights into what informs great art and drives a great artist.
Picasso’s rapport with the audience seems absolutely effortless. He is in his element, appearing so natural, so comfortable and intentional in this space which really is transformed. We observe HIS normalcy, genuinely guests in HIS house. You get to know Picasso, his contagious essence, his joie de vivre, his principled and rebellious, mischievous and complex, eternally youthful spirit. If the real Picasso was half as entertaining as this depiction on stage, it’s no wonder the world fell in love with him and put up with all his ridiculousness and unorthodox indulgences. He lived a full life, always thinking, always creating, always feeling, always being in the moment and that spontaneity and lust for creation is packed into every syllable and accompanying visual of this show.
While the words had weight and wit, the visuals were just as important, the incorporation of intricate, layered, video and movement playing key roles in the flow and momentum; so many types of art encapsulated in such a satisfying hour and a quarter, you know Picasso would have approved and then some. There were numerous technically beautiful approaches to visually telling the story that also doubled or triples in some cases as metaphors. I’m always a fan when the method of storytelling echoes the story being told and this piece was full of such instances. It had all the right ups, all the right downs, and the approach of the piece really did underscore the themes brilliantly.
There are some liberties with the space time continuum in this show and the device used to initially explain how and why Picasso talks directly to us in the audience is maybe a bit cheap, but these are inconsequential to the overall impact of this show. There were abstract moment a bit too out there for my own personal taste, but I couldn’t deny that even those choices made 100% logical and artistic sense when you consider what Picasso is about and what he is saying and demonstrating to you throughout.
I was genuinely charmed and impressed by this show’s content and presentation on so many levels. It both challenged me and resonated with my own inner artist. This show allows a hugely talented man to be understood and admired free of the envy, ego and depression that so often accompany the story of great art/artists, allowing it to even more indelibly imprint on each of my senses. How lucky we are to have had a man like Picasso in this world. How fortunate we are that he inspired a modern day theater artist to tell his story in a way that rivals the master painters own genius. And, how privileged we are to have that artist share such a tremendous work with our local public. What a win for The Stage. What a win for the audiences that will get to experience this. 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a fresh, bold, layered and priceless piece of theatrical art. A Weekend with Pablo Picasso plays through December 7th at the San Jose Stage in Downtown San Jose.