You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

La Casa Azul

It's always possible that a good artist will shape something new out of familiar terrain. But that does not occur with French Canadian theater auteur Robert Lepage's latest play-cum-spectacle "La Casa Azul."

With: Sophie Faucher, Lise Roy, Patric Saucier.

It’s always possible that a good artist will shape something new out of familiar terrain. But that does not occur with French Canadian theater auteur Robert Lepage’s latest play-cum-spectacle “La Casa Azul.” When dramatizing the life of the most overexposed dead woman in current Western art (Frida Kahlo), then setting it to the 20th century music most overexposed in all media during the last two decades (Estonian composer Arvo Part’s four pieces collected on the disc “Tabula Rasa”), that’s a lot of overexposure to overcome.

Lepage can’t be blamed for everyone else jumping on the Kahlo bandwagon before him: His playwright and actor Sophie Faucher has apparently been fascinated with the Mexican artist for years, penning a half-hour radio play drawn from the subject’s writings before approaching the director with an idea to expand and stage it. Still, by now it would take a very imaginative approach to avoid deja vu given Julie Taymor’s recent film and all the other recent Kahlo-inspired efforts.

Which is precisely what is lacking here. As live phantasmagoria based on Kahlo’s own heavily symbolic, autobiographical, surreal canvases, “La Casa Azul” is sometimes technically ingenious. (Lepage’s black-backdrop tableaux also looked a tad forlorn on the large Zellerbach stage, which only occasionally is truly filled by rear film projections.)

Faucher herself plays Kahlo from her youthful mentorship under demanding fellow artist/future mate Diego Rivera (the mountainous Patric Saucier) to the famous deathbed on which her agonized body at last gave up in 1954, at age 47. In between are all the familiar crescendos: The crippling streetcar accident, friendship with Trotsky, controversial trips to the U.S., bisexual affairs, break with womanizing Rivera when he seduces her sister, degenerative medical conditions, et al.

Lepage’s multimedia visual ideas here tend to be clever yet heavy-handed: An easel turns into an operating table, a canopied bed into a crucifix, Kahlo herself into a battered pinata uncomfortably dangled by her head. Strangely, the most fertile images here — and the closest in essence to Kahlo’s own — are two sequences excised from Mae West films.

The first is West’s classic number as slide-projected objet d’art (transformed into butterfly, spider, Statue of Liberty) in 1934’s “Belle of the ’90s,” used to backdrop Frida and Diego’s unhappy trip northward. Another is from the more obscure 1943 pic “The Heat’s On” and features not West but a boogie woogie trumpeter fingering his instrument with a macabre hand puppet.

Stuck either striking poses or declaiming famous quotes, Faucher and Saucier deliver performances that are game but broad; same goes for Lise Roy, who plays various figures when not cast as a bald, M.C.-style Miss Muerte mouthing words of deadly portent. Abetting Part’s undeniably brilliant but wildly overused (in film, dance and theater since the late ’80s) pieces, Mexican folk songs sometimes liven up the audio component.

“La Casa Azul” is a redundancy that provides only pale reflection of Kahlo’s enduringly potent art and proves a waste of Lepage’s wizardry.

La Casa Azul

Zellerbach Playhouse, Berkeley; 471 seats; $52

Production: A Cal Performances presentation of a stage work in one act, directed by Robert Lepage, text by Sophie Faucher based on the writings of Frida Kahlo, English translation by Neil Bartlett.

Creative: Sets, Carl Poirier; lighting, Sonoyo Nishikawa; costumes, Veronique Borboen; props, Sylvia Courbron; makeup and hair, Angelo Barsetti; wigs, Rachel Tremblay; projected images, Jacques Collin; assistant director, Normand Poirier. Opened, reviewed May 8, 2003. Closed May 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: With: Sophie Faucher, Lise Roy, Patric Saucier.

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content