Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford
There are moments in theater—rare moments—when you know you are witness to an historic event. Your heart will race wildly. And you will recall years later that you saw that actor in that role at that time and place.
So it is likely to be with Frank Savino’s extraordinary performance in “A Picasso,” now at Stamford Theatre Works. Savino, playing Picasso in Jeffrey Hatcher’s drama, is directed by STW’s artistic director Steve Karp. All three elements come together flawlessly in this two-character play. Savino has the intriguing text with which to work, and Karp guides him firmly through that maze. Savino plays Picasso with a world-weary indifference, which is nevertheless laced with a strong sense of self and his place in the world. He not only plays the role, he inhabits it. And, fortunately, the playwright has placed the right lines at his disposal.
Here is Picasso in Nazi-occupied Paris, October 1941. Picasso, who has been arrested, is confronted by Miss Fischer, a Gestapo agent. In the cat-and-mouse game which ensues, she must get him to identify three Picasso sketches. They will be displayed in an upcoming “exhibition.” Are they authentic Picassos—or frauds? As it turns out, the drawings are destined not to be shown but to be burned.
The many-layered subtext is also a challenge to Kathrin Kana, who plays Miss Fischer. On the surface she is the cold, brusque efficient agent carrying out her assignment. But gradually, she reveals her own obsession with Picasso’s work and her sexual attraction to the man. Fischer is fascinating to observe, as she undergoes outward changes. An actress who originates from western Europe, her German accent may well be real. Whether real or assumed, it is most convincing. But it is also self-defeating for the actress, whose rapid-fire speeches spewed out in a foreign rhythm are difficult for the listener.
No matter. The 90-minute non-stop battle in which one emerges the victor is totally absorbing and ultimately believable. And director Karp achieves a kind of minor miracle with Kana, who appears near the end as a Marlene Dietrich type, gorgeous legs and all.
Certainly a show not to be missed. All praise goes to this cast, playwright and director.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 29, 2006