Curtain Up: ‘A Picasso’ works quite well, while ‘Little Women’ falls a little flat

The Naples Players and TheatreZone have lately presented two interesting plays outside the usual tried and true offerings. One is a pleasantly successful surprise, the other a well-produced effort that nevertheless disappointed this viewer.

The Naples Players now present “A Picasso” in the black-box Tobye Theater. This play includes two characters, many words and little action in its 90 minutes. Focusing on a fictitious minor incident in the life of Pablo Picasso during the time of the Nazi occupation of France, it touches on themes of art, artists and freedom. It is not perhaps an obvious choice for this community theater group. However, the play succeeds on the strength of the performances and the respect shown to its themes. It raises some thought-provoking issues and casts an interesting light on a historical figure.

It is 1941 and Picasso is in Paris. The Nazi authorities take an inordinate interest in art. They have stolen priceless art from the apartments of Jewish escapees and from Jewish art dealers. They search out unacceptable political messages. The Reich harbors many lovers of salacious materials in its ranks, but officially the party attempts to eliminate the “degenerate.”

Miss Fischer (Bonnie Knapp) is a representative of the Nazi ministry dealing with art matters. She has been assigned ostensibly to get Picasso (Dave Gardner) to authenticate at least one of several works she has in her possession. The real goal is to convince Picasso to denounce the famous painting “Guernica,” depicting the horror visited on that Spanish city by German bombing.

Gardner gives a splendid, convincing performance as Picasso. The charm, the ego, the sexual energy are all there. Knapp’s performance at some early moments verges on caricature, but she comes back from the edge and finally delivers a strong and believably human portrait of a conflicted character.

The set, depicting a bunker where many works of art are stored, is perfect for this space and sensitive to the play and the costumes are appropriate. The lighting, sometimes an issue at the Naples Players, is very effective here.

“A Picasso” is not a major work. It is a kind of sketch, like the sketches that Picasso throws off during the action of the play. But it is a good sketch, and the production represents the kind of risk community theater should occasionally take — bringing us good works by playwrights who may not be household names, and giving our better local actors a chance to stretch.

TheatreZone also sometimes bring us lesser-known or original works, and sometimes the results are outstanding, as in last year’s “Beehive” or the powerful “Miracle in Rwanda.” The recent production of a musical version of “Little Women” was very well acted and sung, with a consistently strong cast, a nice star turn by Donna McKechnie and yet another outstanding performance by local character actor Megan McCombs (who appeared in “Doubt” at the Naples Players just a month ago).

However, “Little Women” the novel does not in this case successfully make the translation to the musical stage. Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work is not a children’s book. There is a seriousness in “Little Women” that underlies the charm — Alcott was, after all, part of the transcendentalist group which included Thoreau and Emerson.

Jo March is one of the great American characters, a celebration of independent womanhood. Presenting her as a Broadway belter — though Megan Yelaney is very fine and appropriately spunky — seems not to do her justice. Nevertheless, appreciation to TheatreZone for finding works like this one and giving us a chance to see them and make up our own minds.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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