By Jackie Demaline
Enquirer staff writer
The Gestapo wants "a Picasso." Not necessarily two or three. One will be enough.
That's the premise of playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's nifty A Picasso, which is a sort of heady cousin to Casablanca and a fine date night for grown-ups at Playhouse in the Park.
The lights go down and we hear the unmistakable wail of French police sirens - ah, so we're in Paris. The lights come up on the Shelterhouse stage and we're in a vault somewhere below Paris.
Picasso (Allen Fitzpatrick) is front and center, in a small, cold-looking brick cavern surrounded by stacks of wrapped canvases and sculpture.
He, and we, soon learn why with the arrival of Miss (not Fraulein?) Fischer (Priscilla Shanks), a coolly glam blonde with a husky voice and an Ingrid Bergman outfit.
Hatcher has chosen the one brief period in the life of the 20th century's most famous artist about which not much is known - his time in Paris during the French occupation - to fashion an entertainment that is constructed of art, politics, mystery, banter, history lesson, and other tasty ingredients.
The part that is history lesson was the plot's starting point: an exhibition of "degenerate" art followed by a bonfire in the Tuileries by the Germans. "A" Picasso was noted, in newspaper accounts, to be among the works by artists that included Klee, Miro and Leger.
The conceit here is that Picasso is invited to choose among a trio of works - which of his artistic children will die in the flames? All he has to do is authenticate one and proclaim the others fakes and he can save two. Call it Pablo's Choice.
Fitzpatrick has a high old time as flamboyant Picasso, taking each of three self-portraits in turn - one from Picasso's boyhood, another from his 30s and one freshly minted - and telling stories.
The fraulein has plenty of secrets and motives of her own, not least of which is that she's - horrors! - an art critic.
One of the pleasures of A Picasso is that, as always, Hatcher is a master of clever dialogue. He sets up the battleground and Picasso and Fischer spend the better part of 85 intermission-less minutes verbally dueling.
The balance shifts - she has the power of the state, he undercuts her with purposefully crude language. She regains her upper hand with an understanding of his work that's a bit too close for comfort - but he has one trump card that is unarguable. This is, after all, Picasso.
They jab at each other over art and politics with an intelligence that would sit well on the lips of Tracy and Hepburn or Powell and Loy, although with none of the charm - this isn't about particularly liking either of them.
There are occasional bits of conversation that ring false, but Hatcher has written the show at a clip and director Michael Haney perfectly understands the nature of the evening's fun, and smartly keeps the male-female face-off taut and provocative.
A Picasso, through Oct. 24, Playhouse in the Park, Thompson Shelterhouse, (513) 421-3888.
Bush, Kerry stress differences on Iraq
Portman to help Cheney prep
College-age audience had already made pick
Editorial: Listen to what they said, not how they said it
Your voices on debate
Error will force Hamilton County to reissue 17,500 absentee ballots
Woman, 49, killed in car chase
Feds puzzled by sheriff's terror alert
'A Picasso' is heady, clever
SPECIAL REPORT: TEST STRESS
Schools grapple with test stress
Doctors know when it's test time
Did you know?
Some Views on Test-Taking and Stress
Educators take steps to reduce test stress
Parents can ease stress of tests
IN THE TRISTATE
Attorney challenges legal tactics of Allen
Blackwell election decisions blasted
Cincinnati schools open campaign for tax renewal
Angels graduate as police sweep
Nuxhall pitches Fairfield tax levy
Owens endorsed by FOP in county coroner's race
Butler fugitive nabbed overseas
Proposed cuts languish
Finneytown looks at teacher layoffs
Monroe might be site for Indians' casino
Court: Reveal donors' names
Opera losing influential artistic director
Warren court worker says demotion unfair
Local news briefs
Downs: This race is about fun, forgiveness
Ralph Bolton, planned downtown
C. W. 'Bill' Wiebold, 61, art restorer
Students touch piece of history
N. Ky. news briefs
Judge won't preside in officer DUI
Independent voice at forum
Young people urged to vote
State workers sound off on health insurance plan