'Desire': How Picasso Liberated Paris

From left, Tuyet Pham, Nicole Phillips, Clifton Duncan and Frank Britton.
From left, Tuyet Pham, Nicole Phillips, Clifton Duncan and Frank Britton. (By Rudy Dalessandro)
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Though rarely performed, Pablo Picasso's 1941 playlet, "Desire Caught by the Tail," is a treat. Thursday's production at the Playbill Cafe for the Capital Fringe Festival was a freewheeling interpretation with little of Picasso's stage direction followed to the letter. The artist would have approved, for what good is it to pay homage to creative genius by re-creating his work if it's done in a way that is predictable and uncreative?

As the program notes, "Desire" is a response to the fear and deprivation of occupied Paris during World War II, a fever dream of longing for a hot bath, a good meal, and the release of sex. This lively production succeeds in getting that across.

There's no story line to speak of. The words paint a feeling of abandon and extremes. They tumble out of Picasso's unconscious like hasty sketches. He conveys lust ("the fresh egg of her nudity"), plays on words to lighten the mood ("fig or fowl") and indulges a taste for extremes (being both adored and derided).

Director Carmen C. Wong spices things up, too, putting across the orgiastic spirit of Picasso's test with her own quirky sense of drama. Big Foot (Frank Britton) delivers an ode to women with a bedpan in hand. As he speaks, the bedpan's curves take on sex appeal. There's brownish mutton stew in Big Foot's bedpan and he sticks his head in it and licks it up. Tart (Tuyet Thi Pham) pantomimes wild sex with a chair. Dancers Meisha Bosma (Anguish I) and Nicole Phillips (Anguish II) gambol with one breast exposed, and three of the characters are played by talking toilet bowls.

Picasso wrote "Desire" in Paris during the German occupation, and at its first reading at a private gathering in Paris in 1944 the cast included Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and it was directed by Albert Camus. That's a tough act to follow, but who cares? This production is a whole lot of fun.

"Desire" continues tonight and tomorrow at the Playbill Cafe.

-- Pamela Squires

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