Theater review: A Picasso at HART Theatre

Julie Kinter and Stephen A. Gonya star in HART Theatre's production of A Picasso. Photo by Dr. John Highsmith

How can artists interpret their feelings without disruption? Should artists be censored? Jeffrey Hatcher’s brilliant script A Picasso raises such questions. The play is performed at HART Theatre through Sunday, April 2.

Hatcher is one of today’s great playwrights. He excels with creepy mind-bender adaptations such as The Turn of the Screw and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, as well as dark comedy monolog plays like Murderers and Three Viewings. A Picasso is a curious piece, different from his others, perhaps, because it’s based in truth. The play is a crash-course in the life of famed Spanish artist Pablo Picasso who painted the powerful anti-Nazi war depiction, “Guernica.”

In 1941 Paris, an attractive, ball-busting interrogator named Miss Fischer (played by Julie Kinter) meets Picasso (played by Stephen A. Gonya) in a secured underground vault. We find out that a trio of Picasso’s paintings have been confiscated by the Nazis and, upon identification, will be set ablaze alongside other artwork deemed reckless. Eventually, Miss Fischer strikes a bargain with Picasso. He must relinquish a single piece for the burning, but the artist considers each of his works like his own children and the choice will not be an easy one.

This is a challenging two-person play that runs without an intermission. Gonya’s Picasso is portrayed as an attack bull seeing red straight out of the gate. Although appropriate on some levels, this is not entirely a good thing, as Gonya is directed to sustain a shrill pitch throughout the first half-hour of the production. Had a viewer not been acquainted with the script prior to the showing, some of the important details may have been lost. But Gonya certainly looks the part and is very capable of the range of emotions necessary for this role. His shining moments come when recalling the sentimental story behind each of his character’s past paintings. As the script dictates, the forlorn-yet-clever Picasso wouldn’t simply use searing anger as his primary source of manipulation.

Kinter is Gonya’s matador, and she keeps up despite their asperous dance. Kinter is also this production’s masterpiece. Her difficult German accent is flawless. Her sexuality is sharp. When we find out Miss Fischer’s own life is at stake, the tables are turned and the story largely becomes hers. Kinter’s stately demeanor is a front and she perfectly deteriorates it. Our mind’s eye can literally visualize the happenings within her storytelling as she describes the paintings that once hung on the wall of her parent’s home and why they were removed.

There are some picturesque blocking moments in the small Feichter Studio space. However, further exploration into the depths of the title character by director David Anthony Yeates is in order. The majority of the time, Miss Fischer doesn’t have any power over Picasso. Such a choice makes the crucial cat-and-mouse game feel obsolete to Yeates’ raging bullfight. This is a very particular direction for sure, and the vague abstraction of a bull cracked from a cool brick wall did not go unnoticed. The props, at such close range, needed similar attention to detail.

So, like any great canvas hanging in the gallery, the next person may be struck by another feeling entirely. We must allow for that discord and revel in those differences. That said, a trip over to HART Theatre to see this intellectual play is recommended. Visit the company’s new bistro and admire the progressive happenings surrounding A Picasso.

WHAT: A Picasso
WHERE: HART Theatre, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville,
WHEN: Through Sunday, April 2. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. $7-10


About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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