A Picasso at the City Theatre

One of my little Picassos1. I have two Picassos. Of course they are reproductions, and small ones at that, little prints in beat-up frames. My grad school roommate Sharon gave them to me — she found them in an antique shop. They depict two harlequins, one on a horse and one with a black mask in hand. The one carrying a mask seems to be a self-portrait: the face is detailed and realistic and resembles a young Picasso, the hands look strong. On the back each bears a sticker, "Made in Italy." Why it would be an advantage for such a print to be made in Italy isn’t clear; Picasso was Spanish and created his great works in France.

2. Last Wednesday I attended the opening night of A Picasso at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh. Being an opening, there was free wine available for all before the show, and an afterparty at Folino’s Ristorante afterward with more free wine and delightful snacky appetizers. It would seem that the theatre was trying to sweeten up the crowd, dispose them to like the play. Such tactics weren’t needed, because the show was excellent. Striking set design (I especially liked the sidewalk grate in the ceiling, through which we heard the sounds of the street above), invisible lighting (which is the best kind — when you don’t notice the lighting, it means it was done exactly right), perfect sound (see street noises above), spot-on costuming, excellent direction, and strong performances by both actors.

3. I should note that without the gratis wine and appetizers, I might still have been disposed to enjoy the show because I had been invited to attend free, as author of this blog. It is now my strong hope that all the theaters in the area will consider blogs — or at least My Brilliant Mistakes — as real press, and they’ll all send me free passes to lots of shows.

Like any reviewer, I shall endeavor to maintain a sense of duty and write truly, not allowing myself to be influenced by free tickets or food or drink or delightful small but elegant gifts.

At it happens, the City Theatre doesn’t want me to review their plays. The newspapers do that already, following time-honored formulae for reviews. So instead, the theatre invited me to attend and maybe write about it, and thereby to expand the conversation and see what would happen.

So, let’s continue this post and see what happens.

4. What is the play about? It’s about the meaning and value of art, and the relationship of artists with their art, and of society with art and artists. Was Picasso’s Guernica a political work? An emotional reaction of anger and sadness to an event, or a protest to an unjust act of war?


Some notes from the program:

I’m not exactly sure that art is terribly effective as a form of protest, but I do think it is effective as a form of reaction and reflection…

I don’t think Guernica stopped World War II, but it certainly was an expression of war…

It’s as if finally all the disparate parts of [Picasso’s] artistic instincts, his style, his concerns, finally roar up together in one thing. The mere fact that Guernica comes to people’s consciousness when you talk about art and war shows just how powerful it is.
–Jeffrey Hatcher [playwright of A Picasso], interview for Philadelphia Theatre Company

Does art matter? Does it matter what a work of art means? Is a person worth more of less than a piece of art? What is vulgarity? Can anyone be truly non-politcal? Is art a lie?

The play asks these questions and doesn’t tell the audience what the answers are. This is part of what makes it a great play — a work of art.

5. Implicit in these questions is another: What is art? I’ve thought about this often lately, as I’ve been sketching almost daily for DrawMo. The sketches I’ve made, particularly the ones created late at night, dashed off before heading to bed so I don’t fall behind my goal of 30 by the end of the month — these are not good drawings. Some look a little like the things they represent, some show something about what I think of the things I’m sketching, but none look like anything I’d hang on my wall.

I’m accustomed to writing badly. The first draft of anything — a short story, software manual, even a blog post — can be quite lousy without hurting the final version, because the good stuff comes in the editing and rewriting. Drawing so far doesn’t feel like that. I can’t revise a drawing the way I can revise writing. I also feel I’m lacking basic skills and techniques that I could use to make things look as I see or interpret them.

So I might expect to feel that these DrawMo sketches are a waste of time. But I feel quite the opposite. The end results are icky, but the process of making them is really interesting, different from other processes.

It helps a lot that there are other DrawMonauts, struggling to get their sketches done each day and posting them. The others’ drawings look terrific to me — some extremely accomplished, others raw but done with charm and wit. Some people post without comment, others complain about where they feel the work fell short. I’m reassured to know they’re like me, I’m like them, and we’re all trying this hard thing for no reason other than to do it. Is that art?

6. Another quote from the program to A Picasso:

To me, there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.
–Pablo Picasso

5 replies on “A Picasso at the City Theatre”

  1. Yes, yes, what you said.

    And it’s not only that I physically can’t revise a drawing very well, because pencil marks never fully erase, and because I’m still not very handy with those brush pens, and so on. It’s that I feel like I’m cheating when I erase and redraw lines, even on an underdrawing. I never feel like it’s cheating when I spend forty-five minutes rewriting a ten line blog post, but for a drawing, which I have a lot less practice doing, I’m supposed to get it right on the first try. What’s that about?

    So a big part of the process for me has been learning to live with those lousy first tries. I’m not so prolific that I can afford to hide the worst ones–I’ve posted every drawing I’ve done this month, and I’m a couple behind. But as Elizabeth Perry is fond of quoting, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Phew–that’s a relief.

  2. I love art in most of its forms. I only wish I had the time to engage in things like plays, visiting galleries, etc. But, the kids take all my artistic time. Except for the trips to museums and art classes on their behalf. And that’s not all bad. But it’s hard to concentrate when you’re keeping a four year old and five year old from fingering the Monet or unwrapping the mummy.

  3. India: Learning to live with the lousy attempt is exactly it. I’m trying to do that with drawing, and also with writing. Blogging is a super tool for that, don’t you think?

    Kathie: A few more years and you’ll be able to get back to enjoying art. And in the meantime, I think perhaps you’re practicing the art of mommyhood… :)

  4. Hi Cindy!
    Wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading your posting “A Picasso at the City Theatre.”
    Since I started to read your blog, a year back I have found it become diverse and deeper in content. I not only like reading and looking at the fun stuff (cocktail recipes, home things and travel) but also enjoy the posts about plays, paintings, poetry and book readings.
    Your blog writing is informative and entertaining.
    Thanks for keeping your readers posted about the art events and creative happenings in Pittsburgh.

    Happy Holidays!

  5. Cindy: I just read your post, and I’m glad to hear that local theatres are reaching out to the bloggers in this city. The folks who read blogs are probably the same people who would enjoy a night at the theatre, but it may not immediately occur to them to attend.

    Ann Turiano, who plays Caroline on Something to Be Desired, works with City Theatre on occasion and frequently laments the lack of young people attending theatre in Pittsburgh. Hopefully more jazzy posts like this will help turn that around.

    Free wine, you say? I’ll have to remember that for the next opening night performance…

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