Saturday, September 30, 2017

Frida Stroke of Passion by Odalys Nanin


By Joe Straw

Pedro Linares Lopez was an artisan and a skilled maker of cartonería, or papier-mâché sculptures.

At the age of thirty, in bed and deathly ill, Linares fevered a vision, and in that vision he saw vibrant mutated animals shouting the words “Alebrijes! Alebrijes! Alebrijes!”  

And in the manner of dreams, the sounds from those animals became horrifying causing Linares to run before the screams pulled him asunder.  He ran down a narrow stone passageway to find a way out and as he looked back, he saw traces of paste and papier-mâché trailing him before he found an escape through a narrow window.

The fever broke.

Linares recovered from his illness and subsequently started creating sculptured animals from his dreams. He created figurines for Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera. And one can surmise that Linares created a Judas figure for Kahlo at one time or another.

And now, as Frida lays ill, it is Judas in this play, a live figurine, that plays an important part, to let her know, there is a way out.  - Narrator

Macha Theatre/Films presents Frida Stoke of Passion, written, directed and produced by Odalys Nanin, at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood and has been extended through October 21, 2017.

Frida Stroke of Passion is a delightful night of theatre, color, tempestuous music, and flamboyant characters; some of these are real and some imagined in the mind of a woman seeking justice for her life.

The incomparable Odalys Nanin brings a different kind of natural spirit to the Los Angeles theatre scene, and writes about famous libidinous characters that held more than just hands. This is a play of natural spirits that embrace life without bordered walls all reaching for unquestionable destinations. Nanin brings that spirit to this play.  She is a grand fixture and an amazing Los Angeles playwright.

The play takes place on July 7th 1954, a day after Frida Kahlo’s 47th birthday. Sickened and in bed, she hears voices sing Las Mañanitas. One is not completely sure whether it is real or imagined but the songbirds are friends and lovers from a meaningful part of her life. 

In Frida’s life, friends come and go, through the imaginary revolving door just inside her bedroom.  And whether it was just a vision, these friends suddenly fade into the background, one wisp away into nothingness, and without closure or an insincere farewell. 

Frida prepares as though she knows her death is just days away. She sits, like a still painting, on her bed, holding a diary.  The smallest movement gives her excruciating pain.  Still, the pain is not so insurmountable that she cannot reach for her lipstick and apply a beautification, a generous dose of bright red paint to coat her pale-dry lips.  These small painful movements remind her of her day-to-day physical travails.  She laments losing her right leg below the knee to gangrene, while she lights a medicinal cigarette to sooth the pain, and awaits the shot from her nurse, Judith (Tricia Cruz).

Nurse Judith finally shuffles in with her basket, giving Frida the shot. This sends Judas (Daniel Lavid) up from a trap door and into her bedroom. Judas is the explanation, the creature that allows all that come after to be a part of the here and now. And so they come, one last time, some with answers, others to play.

Frida Stroke of Passion is another fine work written by Odalys Nanin, which goes down smooth, but possibly not as smooth as the liquor in Frida’s bottle.  The play is different than other plays she has written.  And, while there are bumps in the road, Frida is an exceptional play that gives flavor to a host of fascinating characters in this theatrical bibliography.

The one sheet on the play says: “The story that peels away the secret cover up and reveals what or who killed Frida Kahlo.”  It’s not really a mystery or a cover up. But one really sees the play as a character living life and giving life to the fullest while revealing the incremental steps that leads to her death.

While the director Odalys Nanin and Co-Director Nancy De Los Santos-Reza may not have used this as their viable through line, it is worth the suggestion.  More could be made of the Judas character that seems to quickly come and go without making his mark; he is the bridge between life and death, the here and nether, and the alpha and omega.   

Here are a few thoughts about the exceptional actors.

Ebony Perry and Odalys Nanin

Odalys Nanin has a very powerful presence as Frida Kahlo.  She is fluid and unafraid of the movements of this three dimensional character, throwing her hands up into the air, grabbing a brush, and embracing her friends all for the sake of her art.  But the movements on stage must be incremental and leading us in the direction of her final end.  And it is the manipulation of the characters running into her bedroom that emotionally moves her in that direction.  Frida’s life absorbs the lives of all that touch her and has meaning that reaches for the end in her last few hours. At the end, Nanin’s performance leaves us warm and wanting more.

Campbell De Silva does not resemble Diego Rivera or bring Diego’s fiery political character to the table, but he does present a refined persona with his own interesting history. Throw out the differences, add the similarities, and watch how natural he is on stage.  With that said, the character Diego needs a metaphorical pallet, to be entranced by the paint, and while searching for refinements in all things he deals with his wife’s predicament. De Silva’s vocal patterns are precise, unwavering and manages to get what he wants. Still, De Silva can add and not take anything away from his marvelous performance.  De Silva also serves as the Associate Producer.

Paul Cascante is Leon Trotsky.  Trotsky has been dead for many years and yet appears as a vision, or a ghost.  Trostsky has a purpose but it is not clear what effects this has on Kahlo and how that moves Kahlo along to her final destination.  Cascante is amusing in the role.  One wishes to see how this character moves Frida to her final destination.

Campbell De Silva and Tricia Cruz

Tricia Cruz is Nurse Judith, a woman who takes her job very seriously.  Her job is to administer Frida’s pain medications, which means that she constantly battles Frida about who is in control.  We lose sight of Cruz and her facial expressions under the wide rimmed glasses but she manages to present a very nice character on stage that gets her into a lot of trouble.  And yet, Judith’s relationship to Diego should be more refined given Diego’s proclivities so that when the end is near, the end of their relationship is more painful.  

Daniel Lavid is impressive as Judas, a figurine (alebrijes) possibly made by Pedro Linares Lopez for Frida. Judas reminds Frida of her pain, her body parts, and the strains of living everyday life.   Lavid presents a very physical character on stage and is very articulate in speech and manner.  It is rare when you see an actor present the complete package on stage but Lavid is successful on all fronts.

Marisa Lopez, Odalys Nanin and Francisco Medina

Marisa Lopez plays Chavela Vargas a singer who enchants Frida. Lopez has a wonderful and feisty voice.  And in character, she manages to sooth Frida, to love her, and as suddenly as she is there, she is gone. (In real life, Vargas had major drug problem of her own but we see little of that in this characterization.) Lopez does all the right things but there must be a way to strengthen the character that moves Frida at specific points in her journey. Lopez also plays Maria Felix, an angular actress and singer; we see little difference in those characters in what they need, want, and behave.  It is said that Felix fell madly in love with Frida but Lopez could add more. 

Francisco Medina brings in the instrumentation, a guitar, to fill the stage with song.  Those songs are wonderfully performed.  Medina also brings an extra something to Manalo, Frida’s mentally incapacitated farm-worker that hits all the right notes (no pun intended). Medina is a wonderful actor and musician.

Ebony Perry is successful as Josephine Baker.  Actually, you can’t go wrong, coming on stage dressed in bananas. There is a lot of humor in her limited time on stage but the interesting part of her performance is that she brings the time and place with her as she maneuvers on stage.  It is a delightful performance.

Marilyn Sanabria comes in like gangbusters as Tina Modotti, an Italian revolutionary political activist and artist. Sanabria brings a grand physical life as Modotti and fills the stage with her levity and brings a special nuance to the role.  A grander Italian accent would be nice. Modotti died in 1942 and may have been a remembrance. Also, Sanabria plays Teresa Proenza, a Cuban Revolutionary and spy for Fidel Castro. Although Proenza was a low-keyed version of Modotti, the two characters became a little mixed in their execution on stage.

Joseph Bixler is a cute Little Diego and does extremely well in the role.

There is an alternate cast who did not perform the night I was there.  They are as follows: Christie Black as Josephine Baker, Kesia Elwin as Judas, Diana Lado as Tina Modotti/Teresa Proenza, Lupita Ortis as Chavela Vargas, and Jesus “Chuy” Perez as Manalo/Musician.

Marco de Leon the Scenic Designer has created an unusual set of columns that are broken and patched together, see through walls of string and canvas, and windows that allow those who want to come in, in.

Carey Dunn was the Lighting Designer of this delightful production.

Campbell de Silva is the Associate Producer.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Adrian Tafoya – Production Assistant
Anielka Gallo – Graphic Designer
Antje Dohrn – Photographer
Monica Orozco – Tango Choreographer (Did I mention the lively dancing?)
Chris Hume – Editor & Web Design

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves a historical work of art and color, lots and lots of color.

Macha Theatre/Films
1107 N. Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA  90069

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