Herbert Siguenza doesn’t merely portray Pablo Picasso – he inhabits him in his one-man show, A Weekend with Pablo Picasso. From the opening moments, when he is luxuriating in his bath, to the creation of the last of the weekend’s six paintings – attacking a canvas with the flourish of a bullfighter– Siguenza lives the passion, joy and ferocity of Picasso. Yet there’s a playfulness to this inhabitation that staves off self-indulgence, a warmth as radiant as the south of France in which this play is set.
Siguenza, an artist in residence at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, first proposed the idea of the Picasso show to Rep artistic director Sam Woodhouse five years ago. A year and a half later, Siguenza, who wrote the script, workshopped the one-act play there. After productions in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Denver, A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, directed by San Diego Rep associate artistic director Todd Salovey, has returned to place of its origin. The premise: Picasso, at age 76, has been commissioned to complete six paintings and three vases over the course of a single weekend – which he knocks off as easily as one would a glass of red wine. The audience serves as watchful art students with whom the great painter shares his philosophies, his wit and a few confessions over the course of the weekend in question. Along the way, Siguenza, an accomplished painter in his own right, creates a body of Piicasso-like paintings and sketches. It’s fascinating to watch him work as quickly and deftly as he does. The lessons imparted about art – in particular how it is inexorably intertwined with politics – are taught less by a professor to his students than by a man of the world to other, more innocent members of his kind.
As you might expect, there is no dramatic arc to A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, no action rising to clear climax. This weekend unfolds at Picasso’s whim. Not mere monologue, the show is enlivened by music, stage projections and “bits,” which find Siguenza not only in bullfighter’s cape but at one point donning the red nose of a clown. But it’s the intermittent painting on stage that most makes us believe that we are, incredibly, in the presence of a personality as towering as his art.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.