It is hard to tell, exactly, where “Bass for Picasso” goes south. For me it was probably the discussion about the use of nipple clamps in a child’s tableau of Beauty and the Beast.
The title “Bass for Picasso” refers to an overly complex fish recipe that Alice B. Toklas created for Pablo Picasso; unfortunately it could just as easily refer to this overly complex play that keeps adding disparate ingredients to a dinner party to the point that the narrative collapses. The play is uneven in the extreme and more than once you will wish it could settle upon a tone and stay there. It is part farce, part melodrama, part social commentary and part love story that ultimately doesn’t add up to complete whole.
Anita Hollander and Felice Neals play Francesca and Pilar, a lesbian couple throwing a dinner party in order to taste the title dish, “Bass for Picasso”. Francesca is a disabled food writer for the New York Times, and is working her way through parts of Alice B. Toklas’ famous and celebrity rich cook book. Francesca is a bit of a food perfectionist who demands attention and timing. Pilar is her loopy, purposefully dense, life partner with a thing for Ikea. Thankfully unseen, but all too often referred to, are their young children, one a cross dresser and one a sadist. Anita Hollander brings a cool detachment and the appropriate distain to the role of Francesca. Felice Neals does a great job with a role that veers further and further from reality. She plays the culturally superior European who feigns an ignorance of bourgeois entertainments. It is hilarious until it drifts into idiotic.
Their dinners guests are a single gay man, Terry Small as Kevin, a frustrated dramatist that has started drinking after a six year stint in AA. Instead of the author they expected, Kevin brings Bricka, Mary Theresa Archbold in a difficult role. Bricka is a recent widow who’s dead lesbian lover left her with a son, threatening Republican parents and a venomous hatred towards Francesca , who once had an affair with the deceased. Ms. Archbold does an adequate job, but the role as written whips too much between emotions. The final guest is Joe, play by Nicholas Viselli, an OB GYN with a crystal meth addicted boyfriend and a penchant for telling the truth. Mr. Viselli is wonderful and on stage way too little. Joe, as written and winningly performed, is refreshingly honest and blunt.
Director Ike Schambelan has to expend too much effort in keeping the audience up to speed with the shenanigans and signaling where the characters are emotionally, which is important because the emotions don’t arise organically. With this material, he is not able to create a cohesive experience.
“Bass of Picasso” often works its way into an impossible corner, only to cut to black and resume sometime later – irresolvable situation somehow resolved. It is a funny device once, but it soon becomes an annoying crutch for the show. And, unfortunately, this is the lasting impression of “Bass for Picasso”.
It’s too bad that the material ultimately moves into melodrama, because it works for quite a long time as farce. And, perhaps with the addition of Joan Crawford, it would work as camp. However, as written it doesn’t ultimately work at all.
Bass for Picasso
Rating: If It Sounds Interesting
What works: The building of the farce early; unforced hilarity...
What doesn't work: The sudden shift in tone
What you get to brag about to your friends: You saw a woman use her artifical leg as a weapon (if you brag about that sort of thing)
also review for musicOMH