Picasso sits for a stage portrait
By Maura Judkis
Monday, July 11, 2011
Here’s a portrait of the artist as a young man, but he and playwright Mary Gage paint a rather unflattering one of the woman who stands before him. “My Name Is Pablo Picasso” puts the young painter in his studio for a 5 a.m. lovers’ spat between him and his first model, Fernande. But when the Old Man, a fortuneteller, bursts through the studio doors, Picasso learns that though his future is bright, Fernande’s beauty belies her ugly interior.
It is 1907 and Picasso (Arden Moscati) is at a standstill in his relationship and his art. He wants Fernande (Julia Albertson) to marry him, but she fears poverty too much to commit. Sales of his paintings have all but ceased since “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which was met with mockery from Braque, Matisse and the rest of the Parisian art scene’s major players, and though Fernande outwardly supports the painter’s new turn, she prefers his earlier realism. The Old Man, played by Michael Bernosky, seems to understand Picasso’s struggles from as many angles as his yet-to-be-developed cubist works convey. An artist himself, he helps Picasso learn new ways of seeing, but Fernande, who prefers traditional beauty, closes her eyes to his art.
As the Old Man takes an increasingly cocky Picasso through his lucrative future in the manner of an art history professor, projector slides and all, Fernande begins to backtrack on the whole marriage thing. But history is often unkind to the women who have posed for famous men, and when the Old Man’s predictions turn to Fernande, he shows her future as bleak. Albertson’s voice grows shrill with jealousy as Moscati’s Picasso lets down his guard. “I don’t know where my work is going,” he says. “All I know is, I can’t stop.”
Filled with artistic in-jokes, “My Name Is Pablo Picasso” is one of the Fringe’s more polished offerings, having been presented throughout Australia. Although the play was written in 1979, this Cubist Productions version comes during a year in which interest in Picasso’s muses has been renewed, with a show dedicated to his teenage model Marie-Therese at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Gage’s play isn’t just about the artist’s early years, though. It’s about outgrowing a relationship — the moment you look at a lover’s face that you thought had the gleaming facets of a diamond but see something fractured and ugly instead.