Review by Tulis McCall
(3 May 2010)
There is one thing that Theater Breaking Through Barriers does very well and that is featuring actors with physical disabilities. This is a gesture that the entire theatre community should emulate, along with casting actors who are otherwise not thin, and white, with perfect hair and who are younger than my winter coat.
That being said, there is no gesture large enough to overcome a triple play of inadequate writing, acting and directing. Bass For Picasso possesses all three.
This is the story of a gay female couple with two children who host a dinner party in their apartment. Francesca is a food writer for the New York Times and has decided to create an evening from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. She will feature the recipe called Bass For Picasso, which was named for obvious reasons, and conclude the dinner with Alice’s famous Hashish Brownies. The guests include a playwright, Kev (Terry Small) who was supposed to bring a children’s book author but instead brings Bricka (Mary Therea Archbold) who is in the middle of a child custody fight with her dead partner’s parents. Pilar (Felice Neals) is Francesca’s partner and, as far as we can tell, has no occupation. Last on the guest list is Joe, a doctor who works in the Emergency Room at Kings County hospital. His partner has also been invited, but will prove to be a no-show in what is meant to be a running gag featuring a series of phone calls from Bob who is so inept, and probably high, that he cannot find his way to the dinner party.
As the dinner party progresses there are a series of setbacks that prevent the Bass from showing up on the table. There is a skit that the two children, playing alone upstairs with nipple clamps and Mapplethorpe art, perform off stage. The first attempt at Bass fails and a new fish must be procured. Pilar and Bricka engage in some extra curricular activities in the bedroom. Joe takes a phone call from the emergency room regarding an in-house stabbing. Bricka tells the story of her partner’s death. Kev reveals that his new play chronicles the private lives of the characters on stage. Francesca admits that she had an affair with Bricka’s partner.
In case none of these facts sounds connected to the other, you get the reader of the day award. Instead of a plot, Bass For Picasso features a series of events that are dumped onto the stage like recent purchases from a greenmarket. In addition, the direction that accompanies the facts is filled with pauses that land with a wallop on the stage floor. In acting parlance, “you could unload a banana boat,” during any number of them. The casting, particularly the choice of Felice Neals who is earnest but lacking, is sloppy at best. And finally, the use of Ms. Hollander’s prosthetic leg as a weapon is a pointless and cheap shot that undermines the work of this company.
This is an evening of theatre that will make your face numb. And it is too bad. All that care and work put into a piece that should, at the very least, be taken back to the drawing table whence it left prematurely. Ms. Ryan needs the guidance of a dramaturge. She also needs the guidance of a fact checker: the famous hashish brownies were really fudge, and the recipe was not included in the 1954 American edition published by Harpers. If Francesca were using the British copy, that would have been a factoid to share with her guests. And if not, our characters were feasting on mythical food. A play that makes no sense with food that doesn’t exist. That figures.