By Beki Pineda
A PICASSO – Written by Jeffrey Hatcher; Directed by Billie McBride. Produced by Cherry Creek Theatre (presented at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia, Denver) through April 29, 2018. Tickets available at 303-800-6578 or cherrycreektheatre.org.
In April of 1937, Picasso learned of the bombing of Guernica, a Basque village in the north of Spain considered the cultural center of the Basque nation. The village was largely inhabited by women and children at the time. They were gathered in the village square for market day, as the men were away fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The German Condor Legion, commanded by von Richthofen, bombed the village in support of Franco’s Nationalist Party. In two and a half hours, the village was leveled and hundreds of innocents killed. In response to this controversial war action, Picasso created GUERNICA, a huge mural that depicts the chaos of a bombing on humans and animals.
Fast forward to 1941, the year of the events described in A PICASSO. Picasso, living in exile in Paris, has been summoned to a vault in a building used by the Nazis to store confiscated paintings. He is queried by a minor Nazi official – a Miss Fischer – regarding the identification of three of his paintings. He readily authenticates the pictures as his, giving her the details and stories behind each one. Once he learns they are to be exhibited as an example of “degenerate art” and will be burned as a warning to other artists, he must backtrack and find ways to prove that they are not authentic. A cat and mouse game begins, one which includes threats, recriminations, promises, deals, and even mild flirtation.
The true nature of the situation evolves slowly and concerns the feeling of the Nazis about the mural of Guernica. If Picasso were to disavow its meaning, apologize to the Nazis for its depiction of their inhumanity, and allow it to be burned, perhaps all could be forgiven. It also evolves that Miss Fischer is a bit of a Picasso fan and is only undertaking the task because her job and possibly her life are at stake. She must find an authentic Picasso to complete her mission. Whether or not and how she accomplishes this forms the basis for the script.
Logan Ernstthal’s earthy robust masculinity suits and accurately depicts Picasso at 50. Understandably nervous at the beginning for being summoned for who knows what, once he discovers the true nature of the meeting, he diabolically takes control of the situation, determined that his art will not be destroyed. Susie Roelofsz as Miss Fischer is, in turn, professional and business-like, determined, desperate, and cautiously optimistic. She starts out as very German and becomes very female. The end of their afternoon together is both surprising and satisfying.
Mike Grittner’s grungy cellar like vault is very authentic, and along with the sound effects of Morgan McCauley, lend an underground cavernous sense to the setting. Director Billie McBride keeps the story moving and creates tension and surprises along the way between her two actors.
Only one more weekend to see ‘a Picasso’ for yourself.
A WOW factor of 8!