The prostitutes that inspired Picasso's Ladies of Avignon painting come alive in Thalia Spanish Theatre's production of Jaime Salom's drama. Although this bilingual production is entertaining and reasonably smooth with an imaginative set design, the political climate during the painting's conception and the introduction of cubism is barely touched upon, making it more fluff than tough..........................................................
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
In 1907, Spanish sculptor and painter Pablo Picasso completed his most famous work, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, depicting five prostitutes in a brothel on Avignon street in Barcelona. 100 years later, Jaime Salom breathes life into these mysterious "ladies" and turns them into vibrant, entertaining characters in The "Ladies" of Avignon (or, Las "Senoritas" de Avinon). Here, they are treated not as the symbols of cubism and the influence of African art that critics are fond of analyzing, but rather as hot-blooded, emotionally frayed women who were the company of Picasso as he was penniless and lustful. Unfortunately, there's simply way too much focus on the women's personal lives and occupation. A lot more consideration for the substance of the painting and the political climate surrounding it would have gone a long way to making this show not only amusing, but poignant.
Picasso (Raul Sigmund Julia, son of Raul Rafael Julia of Addams Family fame) is immediately established as passionate and fleshly, and his portrayal as such never deviates. Julia steps into Picasso's charm, endearing drunkenness, and handsomeness easily, but Salom only gives him a one-dimensional character to play with. Strangely enough, his limitations suit the "ladies" of Avignon just fine. When we are introduced to the "ladies," they look the part in authentic, beautiful period costumes by America Barrera. The costumes may mislead until one considers that 100 years ago, the prostitution industry was well-regulated and organized, and that the normal garb for everyone covered more skin, regardless of whether they were gentlewomen or pros. They look like esteemed members of society until the cackling and vulgar talk begins. Antonia (Ivette Oliveras) is especially feisty, mincing no words when it comes to their profession, and dealing in too much reality to sugarcoat it. They discuss Picasso's latest painting, and try to guess just which one of the "scarecrows" represent them. Salom begins the play with the end, and the scenes that follow are a fictional recount of Picasso's muses and their lives.
Madame (Soledad Lopez) runs a tight ship at her brothel. There is the dreamer and love interest of Picasso, Rosita (Angela Perez), her younger, perpetually laughing sister Pepita (Loena Jorge), morbidly depressed Pilar (Kathy Tejada) and the aforementioned Antonia. Sofia (Coco Nunez), Madame's daughter, runs the household, but does not partake in the servicing. The cast works exceptionally well together, playing off of each other's comedic timing and sexiness. They prance around in negligees, but never create an atmosphere that is trashy or exceedingly sexual. Their colorful corsets and dresses work wonderfully against Angel Gil Orrios' off-white and translucent set. Their melodrama is standard fare for this type of setting, but they get in trouble whenever a sob story is introduced. Because of the light mood created by the revelry, any hope of creating a genuine, tender moment or a serious one is lost. Picasso and the women giggle, drink and are merry, and the good times that they create are hard to shake. As a result, the interjections of deep discussions seem spurious, and the passing references to the importance of Picasso's art do not have the impact that they should.
Although some of the scene changes are rocky, the production is well-executed. Orrios uses sheer screens and projections for dramatic effect, both in splitting the stage into various locations and for creating allure and mystery. Under his direction, the cast is energetic and infectious. Charles Philip Thomas' English version (produced on alternate nights of the run) is full of colorful euphemisms that are engaging and eye-popping, including a brazen reference to golden showers (or urolagnia for the clinically conscious). However, Salom could have used this play as an opportunity to explore broader topics, particularly when the importance of the artist and the painting in question are broad in scope. The play also has a delayed ending that lacks punctuation. Nevertheless, if you're simply looking to be amused and not enlightened, The "Ladies" of Avignon is a fine choice.
Through November 11th. TICKETS: $25 718-729-3880.
Thalia Spanish Theatre, 41-17 Greenpoint Avenue, Sunnyside, Queens
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