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A PICASSO at San Jose Rep

“Picasso was a fascinating figure both as an artist and a citizen,” says San Jose Rep’s artistic director, Rick Lombardo.  “It’s a delight to see him square off in Hatcher’s play with a representative of the Third Reich… and an art critic to top it off.”


          This play is set in Paris in 1941 when the city was occupied by the Germans.  Pablo Picasso (James Carpenter) has been summoned to a vault beneath the city to authenticate three paintings that have recently been confiscated by the Germans.  The dialogue between Picasso and Miss Fischer, a German art critic played by Carrie Paff, is a mesmerizing testimonial to what art means to its creator.  “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict,” said Picasso.  “But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done.  Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war’s influence.  Myself, I do not know.”

          He does not know because he is an artist.  A painter puts color and line on canvas and it becomes a piece of him that others interpret in their own way because of what that design says to them.  Pablo Picasso revolutionized the art world by the time he was thirty.  He remained neutral during both world wars and he did not fight.  However, he made a very definite anti-war statement in his masterpiece Guernica.  That painting is far more than a series of images on canvas; it is anger at the devastation, the murder and the senseless destruction war does to our view of what it is to be human.  Picasso was classified as a degenerate artist by the Germans when they occupied France.  He was often harassed by the Gestapo and when he discussed his own war-time activities, he said, “Most certainly it is not a time for the creative man to sit, to shrink or to stop working.”

In this play, the Third Reich wants to publicly burn one of his paintings as their statement that Picasso’s brand of artistic expression was unacceptable to them.  If you are not an artist, it is difficult to catch the undercurrent of this dialogue.  It is hard for anyone who does not meld his heart and his mind together to produce something uniquely his own, a reflection of his place in the steam of events that make his world to understand the impact of burning a work of art, be it a casual sketch on a piece of wrapping paper or a fully realized canvas that graces a prestigious museum.  Each is of equal value to its creator.

The first time I saw James Carpenter he played a Romanian immigrant so hungry he scraped a broken egg from the floor rather than waste it.  I remember thinking, “I am seeing genius on the Berkeley Rep stage”.  I have seen him thousands of times since and no matter what role he plays, he transforms it into something sublime.  He has done more than that in this rendition of the tortured, angry and very frustrated man Pablo Picasso was during the Second World War and beyond.  Carpenter is more Picasso than Picasso himself.  He is the man and he is the mentality that made the man.  He is the artist who expresses himself in color and line and he is the trapped soul who cannot say his anger but must splash it on canvas, paper, walls, and in notebook after notebook, one image after another filled with rage, desperation and the need we all have to define who we are to ourselves. 

Carrie Paff is an excellent foil to Carpenters immense talent.  Without her, we would not SEE Picasso and we would not understand the murder that is trying to happen on the San Joe Repertory Theatre’s stage.  This play becomes a masterpiece in the hands of director Jonathan Moscone.  Jeffrey Hatcher has created dialogue so true to character that you never doubt that it is real.  This production is a mesmerizing 90 minutes; a portrait of what it means to be an artist and why what we create is more who we are than the very bodies we inhabit. 




A Picasso continues through February 22


San Jose Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio

San Jose, CA  95113

Tuesdays through Sundays

Matinees Saturday and Sunday.

(Times vary ) 

Tickets $16-$61


408 367 7255