He Walks! He Talks! He Paints! Picasso to ‘come alive’ in one-man show at San Diego REP
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
If there’s one 20th century artist who’s a household name, it’s Picasso. A master of many media, he lived long and prospered, a self-created legend in his time.
This month, artist/actor/writer Herbert Siguenza, co-founder of the award-winning Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, is bringing his one-man show about the Spanish-born, French-bred artist to the San Diego Repertory Theatre, where “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” was first work-shopped in 2010. After successful productions in Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and the Bay Area, the new, improved version of “Picasso” is back on the stage where it was born.
Siguenza’s Picasso is in his mid-70s, working in his studio in the south of France. He talks to the audience as his guests, and paints as he talks. And the man could talk! Go online and you’ll find dozens of quotes from Picasso, many of which have found their way into the play. But one of the noteworthy things about this “Picasso” is: the actor brings the artworks to life, along with the artist.
“I’m channeling my own inner-artistic self here,” Siguenza said. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up and paint in front of people. It’s not something just anyone can do.”
It certainly helps that he started out as an artist, and was drawn to Picasso’s work at an early age. Seeing Luis Valdez’s ground-breaking “Zoot Suit” lured him into acting, and now, decades later, he gets to create his own Picassos onstage.
How has the show changed since its original appearance here?
“It’s gotten deeper and richer,” Siguenza said. “It’s not that different, really; it’s just better.”
Siguenza is quick to admit he’s had help along the way. First, from director Todd Salovey, at the REP. “He had a lot to do with developing the script,” Siguenza said. “He’s very good at making things clean and concise.” Then, at Houston’s Alley Theater, where Mark Bly, whom Siguenza called “the father of American dramaturgy,” gave him a hand with the structure.
But “Picasso” really is Siguenza’s baby. “It’s my ultimate expression as an artist, combining my love of art and theater,” he said. “I had to get older, and more experienced, to be able to do it, to be able to totally find where Picasso was coming from.”
Siguenza, now 54, is no stranger to the one-man show format. He has created and performed solo pieces about Mexican film star Cantinflas and 1960s political activist Abbie Hoffman. He’s no stranger to the REP either, having appeared there a number of times, with and without Culture Clash. And he’s just completing an 18-month residency at the REP under a New Generations Future Leaders grant from Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for American theater.
“It’s been a great experience for me and the REP,” he said. “As an artist, you don’t have a lot of power, so it’s good to be on the other side of the table, participating in meetings and decisions. Now I feel like a leader, and where I’ve been most influential is that three out of six of this season’s plays are written by Latinos — ‘In the Time of Butterflies,’ ‘In the Heights,’ and my play. I think theaters should represent the demographics of their community, and the REP is really doing that.”
They are also doing three performances of “Picasso” in Spanish, which Siguenza is excited about. “I believe there is an audience for Spanish-speaking theater here,” he said. “If we build it, they will come!”
What’s next for Siguenza, after “Picasso”? The big news is: the LA-based artist/actor/writer will soon be here to stay.
“My family and I love San Diego, and I love the theater community here,” he said.
“I plan to move here, develop my pieces here, and make this place my own.” Already on tap is his newest play, “El Henry,” based on Shakespeare’s
Henry IV. Siguenza described it as a futuristic piece that takes place in a “post-gringo” California, where Latinos rule. It will be presented in association with La Jolla Playhouse, and staged outdoors next June, in Barrio Logan.
If you go
What: “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”
When: Sept. 7-Oct. 6 (Opening night Sept 15; Oct. 5-6 performances en español)
Where: The Lyceum Space, San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza
Tickets: $18-$62 (Discounts at Goldstar and ArtsTix)
Box Office: (619) 544-1000
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