With some ferocity, Picasso tells his German interrogator, “I am not a political man.”
In an adroitly written, one-act play, “A Picasso,” Jeffrey Hatcher has conjured an imaginative confrontation between the artist and a Nazi official.
Hatcher is an American playwright who has adapted literary classics (“The Turn of the Screw,” “Jekyll and Hyde”) and written screenplays (“Casanova,” “The Duchess,” and most recently, “Mr. Holmes”).
Last Sunday, in a swift-moving production directed by Melissa Firlit, “A Picasso” wrapped up the 2014-15 formal season at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. The company already is in rehearsal for a four-musical summer. But like last year’s “Red,” also about a contemporary artist, “A Picasso” demonstrates the gutsy choices Tim and Laura Moore continue to make.
“A Picasso” takes place in a 1941 Paris bunker during the German occupation. The Nazis are rounding up so-called modern art to be labeled as “degenerate” and destroyed.
Miss Fischer, portrayed with cold, officious power by Laura Moore, is a cultural attaché who interrogates Picasso, played with force and guile by Dennis Elkins, chairman of the Fort Lewis College Drama Department. Fischer has been ordered to acquire one work by Picasso, hence the play’s title.
Beginning in darkness, footsteps are heard on stone steps, and then a metal door slams. Alone in the bunker, Picasso nervously waits to learn why he has been detained. Dressed in a leather jacket, striped fisherman’s shirt, red pants and a cap, Elkins is the image of Picasso at the height of his powers. Miss Fischer crisply enters in a gray power suit, fox furs and a feathered hat. The interrogation begins.
Fischer produces three suspected Picasso drawings from 1895, 1919 and, presumably, 1941. She wants Picasso to authenticate at least one. The selection gives the playwright a structure that eventually unspools Picasso’s biography. With colorful storytelling, Picasso enchants his nemesis. He knows what’s happening and what’s at stake, so the line between truth and fantasy is uncertain.
Interrogator and suspect thrust and parry. And when Fischer presses Picasso to explain his painting “Guernica,” his one highly political work, the parrying explodes.
Eventually, Fischer’s own background unfurls. The two also argue the importance and value of art – especially in the face of war. It’s a skillfully dramatized tapestry of confrontation with an ending that’s entirely unexpected.
All the technical elements contributed to a stirring production. Set designer John Santangelo created a cold underground storage vault. Erika Kae’s subtle lighting served the nuances of harsh interrogation and forays into personal storytelling. Tim Moore’s sound effects created and supported the shifting atmosphere with great subtlety. And director Firlit’s sense of pacing and tonal shifts were all but invisible.
What began as a rigid symmetrical underground room with one table and two chairs became a fluid space for two superb actors who humanized a “what-might-have-happened” tale.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.