A Weekend with Pablo Picasso review: Impressive

Robert Hurwitt
Chronicle Theater Critic
October 29, 2011

The big Picasso shows of summer have moved on, but you still can check out his ceramics at the Legion of Honor or watch him at work at the Lesher Center for the Arts. And it's a pleasure.

Tuesday, the 130th anniversary of the master's birth, Center REPertory Company opened A Weekend With Pablo Picasso, written and vibrantly performed - and painted - by Herbert Siguenza. Best known as a member of the dynamic Culture Clash performance trio, Siguenza is also a California College of the Arts grad who applies paint with a speed and intense focus familiar from the films of Picasso at work.

Not that you're likely to confuse most of the paintings, sketches and whimsical found-object constructions that fill the airy, cluttered set - a study in the anarchy of art - with bona fide Picassos. Though some come pretty close.

In his artworks as in his performance, Siguenza isn't imitating Picasso but creating an impression of him, the way he did in his solo homage to the great Mexican comic Cantinflas a decade ago. "Weekend" is snippets of three days with Picasso in his studio in the South of France in 1957, a portrait of the artist as incessant worker, beleaguered celebrity, dedicated pacifist and self-proclaimed genius and man-child.

Handsomely staged by Todd Salovey, with delightful use of archival and interactive-painting video (by Victoria Petrovich), "Weekend" is a not-quite filling feast of Picasso aphorisms and memories. Most of the text comes from Picasso's own words and writings, but however familiar the material may be, Siguenza makes it fresh.

It's funny, in Siguenza's gruff but warm manner and in such anecdotes as his wife and lover battling while he paints "Guernica." It's touching and provocative, as Picasso muses on the marvels of childhood, wonders if he's capable of love or worries over the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary then under way. It's a bit unfinished, leaving plot elements hanging, such as the illness of his daughter Paloma.

But that, too, is part of its charm. Siguenza gives us an incomplete but thoroughly engaging portrait of boundless genius in a flawed man. And of the artist as an eternal Pan - Peter and the great god in one.

Review: A Weekend with Pablo Picasso a funny, insightful look at legendary artist

Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times
October 26, 2011

A Weekend With Pablo Picasso, currently onstage at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, is just that: a weekend, a romp, an artist at his peak showing off and charming his audience.

It is also a tour de force performance by Herbert Siguenza, probably better known as a founder and mainstay of the provocative Hispanic comedy troupe Culture Clash.

So it should be no surprise that the show is marvelously funny, a bit political and stylishly performed. It's also not surprising that Siguenza wrote the piece, as he has collaborated on much of Culture Clash's material since the group started in San Francisco more than 30 years ago.

What is surprising, though, is how Siguenza turns himself into the spitting image of Picasso and has taught himself to paint in the style of Picasso, certainly one the most influential artists the 20th century. An artist in his own right, Siguenza creates many Picasso works onstage as he is performing. (The works are meant to represent Picasso's art, rather than re-create any of the painter's famous works.)

"Picasso" is a sunny, affable show that overtly demonstrates the wit of the master and his flair for apt aphorisms. It also briefly examines his politics, including a nightmare scene around his painting "Guernica," done in response to the German bombing of the Spanish town in 1937, and his relationship with the French Communist party. We also see his love of women and his flair for life.

Darker sides of the presentation come primarily through video projections, mostly of war and surreal, angry sorts of images that flash across the wall, ostensibly showing imagery marching through Picasso's mind.

The conceit of the piece is that the theatergoers are allowed in his studio because the artist has mistaken us for relatives of his out-of-town wife. It works, and once Picasso recognizes us as art students rather than freeloading relatives, it allows for some pleasant byplay with the audience.

It also gives the artist a natural platform for his performing bent, for he thrives tremendously on an audience, as well as the occasional (unseen) visitor, like the man from the bakery who insists on a check rather than cash as payment, because, Picasso explains, his signature is worth much more than the bread.

The character Siguenza creates is the sort of Picasso you'd like to hang out with -- a charming, funny man who is much bigger than life and lovable as a puppy, and about as energetic.

Director Todd Salovey has set an exhausting pace for the show, keeping Siguenza in almost constant motion around the artist's studio, created in a delightful set by Giulio Cesare Perrone. It is filled with the usual artist's trappings -- paints, brushes, canvases -- but also a wonderful array of objects Picasso found interesting, such as the animals he created out of found objects, various hats and other clothing, and bits of this and that he accumulated in his studio outside Cannes in the spring of 1957.

Review: A Weekend with Pablo Picasso an engaging masterstroke
4 stars...Smashing

Clinton Stark
October 26, 2011

First I spent an adventurous “week with Marilyn” and now this, a weekend with the colorful master himself, Pablo Picasso. It seems we can’t let go of our creative legends. We need them- probably just as much as they needed us. And I walked away from last night’s world premiere of Center REP’s A Weekend with Pablo Picasso more than just entertained. I was inspired… to create. After all, it’s what we do here at Stark Insider: create, create, create. Or at least we try as much. As Picasso tells us in yet another in a series of memorable sound bites, “Action is the foundation for all success!”

The show’s premise is positively brilliant: we’re a (somewhat unwelcome) guest staying in Picasso’s home and studio in 1957 as he attempts to paint 6 canvases and 3 vases for a client by Monday morning — an impossible opportunity to get a first hand look at a prolific master at work. Who do they think I am, Dali?! We witness the creative process in action, up-close, and watch as the now 76-year-old painter perpetually fights off interruption — be it a phone call, unexpected delivery, or just our very presence — pontificates about life and art, and recounts stories of love, friendship (Matisse) and food. If you didn’t know Picasso, the man, before, you will after this thoroughly engaging 80 minutes of radiant theater..

“If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the good in doing it?!”

At this point in his life, Picasso is reluctantly benefitting from his earlier creative success (the blue period, Guernica) which now affords him the luxury of pushing the envelope. Doing the same thing twice: c’est impossible! He tells us about the time a woman on the street asked for a portrait. He quickly whipped one off there and then. She loved the piece… but not the price, “But it only took you 3 minutes!” He replied, “No. It took my whole life” Each picture, he explains, is a vial of his blood. You understand me yes? he asks us.

There are minor references to the Spaniard’s political life as a communist and various associations which included producing works for causes (La Guerre, Hungary). The weekend though is primarily about witty barbs, and celebration, for love, for art, so these more serious currents of his life are downplayed.

Herbert Siguenza, who wrote the show, delights as Picasso in as impressive a one-man show as I’ve seen in a long time. He brings a likable quality to the performance, and I’m guessing intentionally sheds the real master’s crankiness. In that regard, Siguenza plays the master as more of a caricature with a heavy dose of his own personality and style; it results in a portrayal that rings true, and it does help that he breaks the fourth wall with ease, creating a dynamic with his house guests (“my wife’s cousins!”).

"Painting is the nearest we can get to the truth.”

Perhaps most impressive of all of Siguenza’s talents — singing, dancing, storytelling — is his ability to paint. This man can paint. Sometimes expressive, beautiful, other times explosive, violent. And before our very eyes. In fact all of the set pieces decorating the studio, located just outside of Cannes in Southern France, have been created by the actor.

Stolen paintings?! Have Siguenza paint some replacements!

Donned in a mask and cape, Sigeunza makes like a bullfighter in one scene and attacks the canvas. There are explosions of black, and then red. It ends in death. But what could be more beautiful?

Pablo was one quotable guy apparently. And he comes at us in bursts about life’s lessons. There is no grey area. Picasso knows. At times it can be hard to keep up with the rapid fire assault of quotes, parables and metaphors. And because this is a one man show, we don’t get an understanding of his relationships beyond just art (though his wife and daughter, en route to Paris, are referenced). These are minor quibbles because this show is primarily centered on the artistic process, and the man that changed the face of modern art as we know it.

Picasso tells us that our work “must be the ultimate seduction, the ultimate pleasure.” In my weekend with Picasso I saw what happens when a life is not a dichotomy – when it is pure expression. It makes for a stimulating, engaging evening of theater.

A Weekend with Pablo Picasso at Los Angeles Theatre Center

Philip Brandes
April 7, 2011

Anyone expecting a politely informative docudrama from Herbert Siguenza’s one-man show “A Weekend With Pablo Picasso” is in for a shock — in the best possible way.

Granted, the piece shares some elements with other solo portraits of historical figures. Siguenza, known principally as a co-founder of the groundbreaking Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, turns in an assured, charismatic and well researched performance as the complicated Spanish expatriate who became the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Presented by the Latino Theatre Company, Siguenza’s play finds Picasso living in France in 1957 at the height of his celebrity and facing an unexpected high-profile commission to crank out six paintings and three vases over the course of a single weekend (“Who do you think I am — Dali?” he grouses on the phone to his art dealer). Picasso has grudgingly allowed a group of art students — the audience — to stay at his home/studio while his family is away, a serviceable premise allowing Siguenza to directly engage us with jokes, stories and insights into the artistic life culled from Picasso’s interviews and writings.

Siguenza’s secret weapon, however, is his talent as a painter in his own right. A lifelong admiration for Picasso led him to create the show, and his ability to paint credibly in his hero's style makes for a visual tour de force as the commissioned artworks come to life. Some of Siguenza’s faux Picassos are painted in real time at each performance, others created in advance but take shape through evolving rear projections in a nod to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 documentary, “The Mystery of Picasso”; Victoria Petrovich's video montages also delve into biographical and historical events, as well as Picasso’s dreams.

Todd Salovey’s savvy, stylish staging employs Giulio Cesare Perrone’s colorful artist-studio-as-playpen set to reinforce Picasso’s passion to see the world through a child’s eyes. Shades of childish petulance also erupt in Siguenza’s mercurial performance, though his allusion to women as being either “goddesses or doormats” only hints at the artist’s capacity for reprehensible behavior. Siguenza’s play could risk showing more of his subject’s dark side, but it’s a stellar success at illuminating some formative events of Picasso’s life and drawing us into his artistic world.

The Actor and the Artist: Two Masters at Work and Play

Tony Frankel
Los Angeles Theater
April 23, 2011

What a joy it is to watch the Los Angeles Theatre Center roar back to life. Once considered a dodgy neighborhood, the Historic Core has become the center of downtown’s magnificent gentrification. The area is now a haven of lofts, art galleries and restaurants; the most exciting event is the Downtown L.A. Art Walk, a monthly showcase and celebration of this thriving arts district.

Back in the 1980s, when skyscrapers were replacing low-income neighborhoods, the Community Redevelopment Agency renovated a 1917 bank building on Spring Street for $32 million, hoping that the complex would be a magnet of attention that was sorely needed to bring the blighted area back to life. Although the four theatres became a beehive of activity, the neglected neighborhood lay dormant. Financial mismanagement and (let’s face it) some truly misguided productions led to a takeover by the city’s Cultural Affairs Department in 1991. LATC languished until January 2006, when the Latino Theater Company (founded in 1985 by current Artistic Director, Jose Luis Valenzuela) was awarded a 20-year lease for LATC from the City of Los Angeles; they also received a $4 million grant from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment. In October 2007, the building was re-opened as the new Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Recently, I stopped by to see Herbert Siguenza’s solo show A Weekend with Pablo Picasso – and it is a tour-de-force triumph. I had no intention of reviewing it, as the proliferation of one-person showcases in Los Angeles had soured my interest in the genre; too many artists are more concerned with a narrative recounting of their lives (which often smacks of self-aggrandizement) than they are in creating a theatrical experience. Rare is the solo outing that, through a combination of playwriting and performance, transcends its medium to become an event, such as was accomplished by James Whitmore as President Truman in Give ‘em Hell, Harry, Robert Morse as Truman Capote in Tru, and Ann Randolph in Loveland.

In A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, we are not voyeurs, but rather an art dealer’s stoolies, who have been sent to Picasso’s home and studio, “Le Californie,” to ensure that he finishes works which have been commissioned by a wealthy art patron. Both Picasso, whom we meet in a bathtub with his rubber ducky, and Giulio Cesare Perrone’s perfectly realized set make us feel right at home in the south of France. You can practically smell the fresh bread that is delivered to the studio by a baker who requests payment by check; it is one of the many splendid moments that humanize Picasso: he willingly accepts the free food, knowing that the uncashed check bearing his signature is worth much more than the price of the bread.

Siguenza not only wrote the fascinating play (based on the writings of Picasso), but paints the commissioned works before our very eyes. It is a rare opportunity indeed to witness such unmitigated and astounding writing, acting, and painting skills in one show. Not only do we receive insight to the creative process of the influential artist, but an absorbing exposition on existential philosophy, especially as it applies to the Master’s famous painting, “Guernica” (amazing projection design by Victoria Petrovich).

Director Todd Salovey never allows Siguenza to become over-the-top, even as he flits flamboyantly about the stage, spouting Picasso’s controversial opinions. The same opinions and designs that took public and art world of the twentieth century by storm will leave you excited and inspired. High-tail it to LATC and see why Siguenza’s magnum opus perfectly embodies Picasso’s quote, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”