A PICASSO at San Jose Rep SF Follies: Singing, Dancing & Scandal on stage

San Jose Rep presents…

“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

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John Bisceglie presents…

If you love gaudy, bawdy musicals, if you thrill to high energy glitz with amazing chorus lines that dazzle, and if you adore San Francisco, in all of its grime and glory, you owe it to yourself to see this exciting, edgy show that ridicules all the things that drive us wild: the filthy pan handlers, the drug dealers, the crammed busses, vindictive meter maids and littered streets set against a skyline to die for and opulence no one can afford. John Bisceglie has created an exciting phenomenon: he has captured the very essence of San Francisco, its evanescent charm, and irresistible magnetism, its squalor, hypocrisy and contracting values. He has packed an immense volume of outrageous politically incorrect revelation into 90 minutes of rousing song and dance. AND he manages to do all this in the tiny 90 seat Actor’s Theater on a stage no bigger than a postage stamp.
This show is far more than a “must see” event…it is a “must see at least twice and bring everyone you know” happening that no one wants to end. Fifteen talented, enthusiastic performers fill the stage and capture the heart of everyone lucky enough to be in that audience. The plot roasts San Francisco from its beginning 300 years ago to Gavin Newsom (“I’m pop-u-lar in my Prada suit” …… to the tune of Wicked). The tongue-in-cheek score targets every aspect of the city we know, adore and revile. Nothing is sacred. Bisceglie takes on BART, the Community Transit System, Haight-Ashbury and Diane Feinstein. We get spoofs on the Golden Gate Bridge. the adorable Brown Sisters and The Sutro Tower.
The imaginative sets, the glitter and the choreography, not to mention spectacular costumes all enhance but never detract from an hour and a half of pure delight. You don’t want to miss Jessica Payne spoofing Jan Wahl, a beggar woman and a dike on a bike. Jujuana SahRon sings “Cash, Not just Care” as she pushes her overflowing shopping cart across the stage and Jenna Davi steals your heart as Nancy Pelosi and best of the best, an adorably hilarious pink poodle in heat. Ryan McBreaty destroys as the nasty Meter Maid singing a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan: “I am the very model of a modern city meter maid.“
Bisceglie, a San Jose native, he created and produced the long running San Jose Follies in 1995 and San Jose Follies Strikes Back that played for two years at both Bella Mia Restaurant and the Victory Theater in Downtown San Jose. For years, Bisceglie has wanted to create a Follies production for San Francisco. Over the past 12 months, he has been busy developing SF’s own Follies with co-author and friend Jason Tarshis, who also co-wrote both of the San Jose productions. Though both writers had great fun working on the San Jose Follies, they agreed that only a San Francisco setting could do the follies justice. Although the show is risqué at times with definite attitude, it is by no means mean-spirited. Its “Hit List” includes over 300 SF and California personalities, businesses, landmarks and institutions. As an audience member, you may even be lucky enough to run into one of the celebrities that are lampooned since many are being offered special VIP tickets to the show.
The finale injects that touch of nostalgia we all feel about the city: San Francisco may be dirty, filled with corruption, unpleasant odors and off-beat people with attitude, but it is ours, all ours and we would live no where else. A piano solo of “I left My Heart in San Francisco accompanies a slide show of the city, past and present in flickering black and white right before the last song and dance. We see the raising of the Golden Gate Bridge, the opium dens, the 1906 earthquake and all of it brings tears to our eyes as we remember what we‘ve heard, what we’ve felt and what binds us to this magic place called San Francisco.
It takes great genius to pull all this together and pack it into a teensy-weensy theater a couple of blocks off Union Square. Bouquets upon bouquets to John Bisceglie, his impeccable cast, the cryptic, just right script, and funny, yet glorious song and dance that makes you tap your feet while it fills your heart.
I warn you: Do not wait to buy tickets for this show. When word gets out, there won’t be a seat left.

SF Follies plays at the Actors Theatre, 855 Bush Street, San Francisco Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 2 p.m.
Open seating tickets $33-$40 and worth every penny.
800 838 3006

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