by Alix Cohen
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican painter who employed folk art style in surreal, nationalist, Catholic, and distinctly autobiographical images. She came through polio as a child, but at 18, was in a horrific traffic accident which left her crippled, and despite a series of operations, suffering constant, abject pain for life. It seems to have barely slowed her down.
Kahlo married celebrated muralist Diego Rivera at age 20. They were referred to as “the elephant and the dove.” A tempestuous relationship ensued during which both had affairs. The couple divorced 10 years later, remarried and again divorced remaining friends. Kahlo died of a drug overdose many conjecture was suicidal. She eventually found artistic success with “my chicken scratchings”/ “my permanent estate” but wasn’t internationally recognized until the 1970s.
“I had two accidents in my life,” Kahlo (Susan Rybin) begins, telling us one was a bus crash, the other was called Diego Rivera. Speech is Mexican accented English peppered with Spanish (a little less of this would help those of us not bilingual). Appearance is startlingly close. Movement lurches so realistically, we can feel the effort. Presence is compelling. The character describes her accident so graphically you’d think you were looking at her impaled and twisted body. We hear nothing pitiable. “That day death danced around my bed.”
There’s no fourth wall. This is a chronicle shared in almost confrontational fashion. Pride and passion rule. Anger underpins. Kahlo cradles an artificial leg (beautifully conceived -Leg prop by Millery Beltran) as if it was a child; she addresses it. Guests are coming to celebrate The Day of The Dead, with which she’s intimate. The artist still has to cook and decorate the house for him. “Pain lives with me. It’s a part of me. If nothing were to hurt me right now, I would cease to exist.”
Craving company, she “plays” tough and cheerful in public. “Alone, I often think of suicide.” Still appetite for life, for art, for love of Rivera hold fast. Kahlo speaks to a portrait of her husband set up on an easel. “My Diego has never been and will never be mine…I’m all screwed up, a beggar, a shopgirl, here for you fatso with my sex wide open.” Perspective is clear, devotion unconditional.
Humberto Robles’ compelling play seems to climb inside Frida Kahlo’s head and gut. What might have been overblown arrives instead with barely contained passion. Language is terrific. The short piece gives us a strong sense of both character and trajectory.
Susan Rybin seems to BE Frida Kahlo. The actress creates a multilayered portrait with blood and sinew. Focus vibrates. Every shift and gesture are of a piece. The tale unfolds as she recalls it. Brava.
Director Luis Caballero gives his heroine credible stage business. Winding the long braid around her head works wonderfully. Props are insightfully used- a doll facing a mirror, for example, a shawl, portraits of them both. Pacing is extraordinarily deft. Kahlo’s power/determination is palpable, Rybin’s accent is pristine.
“I want you to put a red flag on my coffin…I want you to write, Here I lie, the one who gave birth to myself.”
Photos courtesy of the production
Worthy contributions to this vibrant production include:
Robert Jones- Make up Artist-vivid
Gabino Trujillo/Aaron Tapia- Set Design- evocative. ‘loved the portraits and artificial leg.
Phil P. D’Martino- Parial Wardrobe—the decorated bustier/cast is inspired
Nicolas Salgado- Lights and Sound- subtle and convincing
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE: October 6 9:00pm
In its 9th year, United Solo, the world’s largest solo festival, presents over 130 local and international productions including storytelling, dance, puppetry, multimedia, improv, stand-up, magic, music, and drama over the course of ten stimulating, entertaining weeks. A fascinating, affordable way to see a cornucopia of theater. Recommended.
United Solo presents
Frida Kalo: Long Live Life
Written by Humberto Robles
Featuring Susan Rybin
Directed by Luis Caballero
September 15, 2018
Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street
UNITED SOLO: http://unitedsolo.org/us/