Herbert Siguenza dabbles in pastiche but overcomes cliché as Pablo Picasso atthe Alley Theatre
Overcoming the cliché status the persona of Pablo Picasso has claimed in pop culture is a tough task, but Herbert Siguenza's performance in A Weekend With Pablo Picasso, currently debuting at the Alley, is so apparently all-consuming for the actor/painter/playwright that the audience becomes enraptured by their three-day stay in Picasso's coastal French studio.
It doesn't hurt that Siguenza is a near Picasso doppelgänger, but the actor goes to every measure to embody his character. There are obvious habits — the chain smoking, the one-liners and the rampant shouting of "¡Joder!" — but Siguenza has attempted in every sense to become Picasso, most notably through his live painting of Picasso-esque works of art.
Siguenza wrote, stars and paints in A Weekend With Pablo Picasso. Equally as impressive as his 90-minute monologue and sequence of canvases is a set designed by Giulio Cesare Perrone, which manages to transport the audience to Picasso's remote private studio, "Le Californie." Depicted in his own habitat at old age, the notion of Picasso as celebrity has (thankfully) been removed.
Siguenza shines most brightly in his period-setting political diatribes and spouting off of bohemian truisms — essentially, when he is most directly channeling Picasso. The performance falls into pastiche territory with inter-scene slideshow projections, in which pivotal moments and artworks are montaged with music by Bruno Louchouarn. A wee-hours panic attack, induced by flashbacks of Guernica, is a bit excessive, but it could be argued that Siguenza is honestly portraying Picasso's over-the-top nature.
Surely the bits of comic relief delivered with Picasso's neologisms counteract any moments of melodrama.
Local theater-goers may recall that less than a year has passed since we received a Picasso-themed production via A Picasso at Stages Repertory Theatre. Both plays offer intimate portraits of the artist alone in his studio, bearing the question of if there's an endless appetite for undercover chronicles of the character.
But whereas A Picasso directly confronted World War II themes and came to Houston by way of New York, A Weekend is in its world premiere. The play is the product of the Alley Theatre's New Play Initiative, which facilitates the creative collaboration between playwrights, directors, actors, designers and dramaturgs during all stages of a new play's development.
A Weekend With Pablo Picasso runs through Feb. 28.