Friday, May 25, 2007

BSC "A Picasso" - Tense, Terrific

Barrington Stage Company transforms a tiny, downstairs space into a cellar, a chamber. It is October, 1941 yet, within the claustrophobic confines of this basement locale, one would be hard pressed to guess that this scene occurs beneath a Parisian street. BSC triumphs with Jeffrey Hatcher's "A Picasso," which boasts: splendid performance (Thom Christopher and Gretchen Egolf), direction (Tyler Marchant), and set design (Brian Prather). The run of this taut drama has been extended through June 10.

Picasso (Christopher) has been led to the room against his will. He will spend ninety minutes (the duration of the two person play) in conflict with the alluring Miss Fischer (Egolf). The young, slim woman, is outfitted by Guy Lee Bailey in drab business garb. Her conventional suit has been chosen to match the personality of this investigator who also shows keen knowledge and intrigue with art. She is tough, matter-of-fact, and very much to the point.

Prather supplies a well-worn wooden table and a few chairs. Theatergoers sit on all sides to watch. Jeff Davis' lights are dim. Tone and atmosphere speak volumes.

"A Picasso" features match of acumen and wit between the dogged Miss Fischer and blunt, caustic, straight-ahead Picasso. He is easily angered and wears his emotions throughout. Show it or tell it? Christopher, as Picasso, accomplishes both.

The dramatic question behind Hatcher's insightful play is posed early. The playwright weaves in the complexity through layering. Rather than pronounce, this play implies. The text becomes personal as these two, trapped within this vault, seek individual leverage.

There is also a good deal of peripheral information which is helpful to the viewer. For example, Picasso, from Spain, has elected to live in France. He is exceptionally proud, strong-willed, and egomaniacal. He boasts of "Guernica." He has been asked, by Miss Fischer, to comment on the authenticity of three supposedly Picasso pieces she presents. She is German, an art critic, and sexy.

It would not surprise if someone critiques "A Picasso" as being traditionally formulaic. While I disagree, I would respect the argument. What's vital, however, is that a creative team has envisioned a performance and two top actors, demonstrating enviable timing, deliver moment after moment after moment.

Given the confining situation, pacing is crucial. Credit Marchant for give-and-take as the play evolves. Christopher and Egolf are ever convincing. Check this one out.
(413) 236-8888 - at the Berkshire Athenaeum (1 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield, MA)


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