SDNN: Feature “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”
“Weekend with Pablo Picasso” premieres at San Diego Rep: One-man show stars Culture Clash’s Herbert Siguenza
He was 7 years old when he was given a life-changing book, an intimate photographic essay entitled “Picasso Paints a Portrait.”
“Even as a kid, I loved and admired it,” says actor/writer/comic extraordinaire Herbert Siguenza . “I said, ‘Who’s this old man with no shirt on, being so free?’ It looked like a charmed life. I said, ‘I wanna be like that, an artist.’ Later on, I figured out it was Picasso and what that meant.”
What it meant to the co-founder of the ground-breaking, iconoclastic Chicano comedy troupe, Culture Clash, was that he’d go on to get a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Printmaking from the California College of Arts. He painted, created silkscreen prints and Chicano political posters. And though he’d wow the American audience with his hilarious audacity, acting acumen, razor-sharp writing, characterizations and wizardry with voices and accents, he never stopped making art, though now, on the go and on the road so much, it’s mostly digital (“surreal, Goya- esque work on my iPhone ”).
Now, he’s come full circle, creating a portrait of Picasso of his own: a one-man show that he wrote and performs, “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso,” which has its world premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre (3/21-4/11).
After 25 years of political theater with Culture Clash, says the bald-headed, 50 year-old Siguenza , “I thought I should go back to that book again, and revisit the freedom Picasso represented, the freedom to be an artist without the burden of political views. He did art for art’s sake. I need to do that. You can’t always be commenting on society; it gets tiring on the soul.”
So this is a solo “performance vehicle” for Siguenza , a chance for him to spend some time with his “art hero,” and to invite us along for the ride.
A few years ago, he created a piece on his “comedy hero,” Cantínflas , the beloved Mexican comedian and stage/film actor , whom Charlie Chaplin called “the greatest comic of all time.” Cantínflas (born Mario Moreno) was best known to American audiences for his leading role in the 1956 movie of “Around the World in 80 Days.”
“Maybe I’ll just to do a series of heroes,” Siguenza says with a chuckle. But he actually seems to be considering it, even as he jests.
The premise of his new piece is, “We are voyeurs in his studio, at a time when he finished six paintings and two vases in three days. We’re witnessing this feat. He talks to the audience about his art, his philosophy of art. So we’ll feel like we actually spent a weekend with this 78 year-old legend, who was already the world’s greatest artist. It’s all based on his writings and speeches.
“It’s the 1950s,” Siguenza continues. “The Communists have just invaded Hungary . He’s torn between being an artist, an activist and a Communist. He’s having nightmares about the bombing of Guernica .”
This, of course, is a reference to Picasso’s wild and wildly famous anti-war statement, “Guernica,” his violent, gut-wrenching reaction to the German and Italian bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937; he completed the huge painting just two months after the event.
“’ Guernica ’ anchors the play,” says Siguenza . “It was pivotal. The play is really about his work, his genius.”
During the course of the new work, the multi-talented Siguenza will paint, sing, clown, dance, draw, sculpt and impersonate mythical creatures. There will also be projected images of the works of the master and his contemporaries.
Picasso has definitely had an influence on Siguenza .
“He’s given me fearlessness, to attack a drawing or painting without knowing the outcome. I’m not afraid to destroy and rebuild, because something will come out of the destruction.
“That spills over into my writing: fearlessly reconstructing and cutting the script. In Picasso’s mind, an art piece is never finished. His philosophy makes sense to me.”
WORK IN PROGRESS
Siguenza’s piece has been evolving for several years. And it continues to change, over the course of readings, workshops and rehearsals. And the addition of post-modern Spanish music by Bruno Louchoun .
“I’m putting in more fictional scenarios to make it more human,” Siguenza says. “I don’t want it to be a lecture. At first, I wrote it like a Master Class, but that isn’t interesting theater. So I started whittling away, giving it more action, more painting, more movement, some of it through dreams. He was a clown, too. He’d dance around with his kids; Paloma was ten years old at this time. Once we add the music and the images, it becomes more theatrical, less didactic. I know what he’s talking about in terms of art. I can put conviction behind the words. You don’t want to show them you’re acting.
“When I did Cantínflas ,” Siguenza explains, “it was more like memorizing and execution of the language, all verbal calisthenics. With Picasso, it’s more like a feeling you want to wash over people. The feeling of genius, creativity unleashed.
“During ‘ Cantinflas ,’ I met one of his lovers, one of his wives. She said, ‘Wow. You were him! Nicer than he was, really.’ He was a little tyrant; had a big temper.”
Picasso also notoriously had many women.
“He was cocky in terms of his virility,” says Siguenza . “I try to explain his erotic drawings. He was a player in the early days, a misogynist according to some. But by this time, he was calmer. I like this period. He knew time was running out. He was just making art, and he painted to the end.”
In fact, Picasso lived long past the 1950s. He died in 1973, at age 91.
“There was a New York exhibition of his last paintings,” says Siguenza , “which were really weird. He knew that he’d changed art. Toward the end, he became a factory, creating vases, ceramics, sculptures . People wanted a Picasso. He worked very fast.”
HOME, SECURITY AND BECOMING PICASSO
The just-closed production of “Culture Clash in AmeriCCa ” was the group’s sixth appearance at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. “It’s our second home,” says Siguenza .
Both REP artistic director Sam Woodhouse and the show’s director, Todd Salovey , are serving as dramaturges on the new piece.
Meanwhile, Siguenza , who’s based in L.A. and teaches in Irvine , is creating a theater piece with students, based on interviews. Culture Clash has done similar projects in Syracuse and at UCLA.
“It’s important to pass the torch,” Siguenza asserts. “That’s gratifying.” He’s done some film and TV work (“ Ben Ten,” “Alien Swarm”) in addition to his extensive stage work. His dream is “a steady job on a sitcom or police series. I’m due for some security,” he adds, with a laugh. “I’ve never had security. I don’t know how, but through hard work, we’ve survived.”
As for Culture Clash, which includes Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas, Siguenza says, “We get along. But it’s getting harder and harder to create together. We’ve changed. We’re interested in different things as individuals. Eventually, we’ll become more of a production team. We don’t have to be together 24/7 any more.”
Maybe not, but it doesn’t look that way. Culture Clash is premiering a new play, “American Night,” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer. Siguenza and Montoya are part of the cast.
Siguenza’s parents, natives of El Salvador , would appreciate his current project.
“They’re both gone now, but they were always supportive of my visual art. They would trip out on this,” he says of his latest work.
“I just wanted to grow up to be like Picasso. And I think I am – pretty free to do what I want. Like him, I think I’ll do art till I die. But his are huge shoes to fill. Ultimately, you’ve got to bring a lot of yourself to the mix. It’s not an impression. People need to believe it’s real. They have to let go and believe that I’m Picasso.”
WHAT: “A WEEKEND WITH PABLO PICASSO,” a solo show, written and performed by Herbert Siguenza , at the San Diego Repertory Theatre
WHEN: March 21-April 11
Preview schedule : 3/21-25: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m.
Regular Run : Wednesday at 7 p.m., (Wed. at 10 a.m. on 4/7 only); Thursday at 8 p.m. (4/8 only), Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. (4/3 only), Sunday at 2 p.m. (3/28 and 4/11 only)
WHERE: Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego
TICKETS: $29-$40 (student discount $18)
CONTACT: (619) 544-1000; www.sdrep.org