‘Frida – Stroke of Passion’— A Production in Search of a Play

By Ernest Kearney — The rich soil of Frida Kahlo’s life has, spreading just beneath its surface, the roots of a dozen plays merely awaiting the sun and nurturing of the right playwright’s shining creativity. With Frida – Stroke of Passion at Casa 0101 Theater, the wait continues.


Harbinger of the problem is portended in the print of the program: “Odalys Nanin (Frida Kahlo-Writer-Director-Producer).” Rare is the artist who can pull off this demanding quartet of skills, and in this production Ms. Nanin, sadly, comes off as medium-well at best.
As Frida Kahlo-Writer, Ms. Nanin, like a young inexperienced juggler with the Chinese Opera, has failed at keeping all her plates spinning.


As Director, she has succeeded in mounting a visually engaging, colorful staging which manages to convey and capture the riotous essence of the canvases by the surreal folk-feminist artist.


And as Producer, lacking the defense of youthful naiveté, Ms. Nanin should honestly have known better.


For those of you unfamiliar with the Mexican painter Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (1907-1954) you should really read more.


Ground breaking cultural artist, passionate Chicano nationalist, early feminist, unapologetic sexual “heretic,” committed communist, Kahlo’s life was one of scandalous notoriety, inconceivable tragedy and remarkable heroism in surmounting multi-adversities that included 35 surgeries, childhood polio and a tragic trolley car accident about which, believe me, you do not want to know the details.


With Frida – Stroke of Passion, the playwright has taken Kahlo’s rather busy life and given us basically the equivalent of an FDA mandated ingredient label printed on the side of a box of Kellogg’s Honey Nut Frosted Flakes.


Set eleven months after the amputation of her right leg in the drug, tequila and pharmaceutically induced analgesic haze of her last night, Nanin connects all the dots of Kahlo’s story in a rather pedestrian manner.
All the expected Frida quotes are there:
“My wings are my paint brushes.”
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego.”
“I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim.”
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone.”


Then comes the parade of Kahlo’s notable lovers, presented here rather like flash cards:
There’s the “black pearl” and Jazz icon dancer Josephine Baker (Celeste Creel), the exiled communist leader Leon Trotsky (Paul Cascante) who was assassinated while in Mexico, political activist and actress Tina Modotti (Martha Balourdou), the Mexican Edith Piaf, Chavela Vargas (Sandra Valls), the Cuban spy and favorite cats-paw of the JFK conspiracy nuts, Teresa Proenza (Kesia Elwin), the film actress María Félix (Jorie Burgos), and of course the great muralist Diego Rivera (Oscar Basulto) who Kahlo twice married and she described as a hybrid between a dog and an elephant.
Of Nanin’s crew Creel, Valls, Burgos and Cascante manage to come off best, as does David Santamaria as the imagined child Frida and Diego were never fated to have.


Nanin’s performance itself squeezes under the wire, but not by much.
Tricia Cruz as the nurse comes across like a clone of Mary Wickes snatched from a production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, though some blame for this performance must fall to Nanin.


David Ty Reza and Francisco Medina contribute to the magic realism of the production which, as I stated, was the most successfully realized aspects of this staging.


It’s a pity that the rest of the staging wasn’t as successful, because such a topic is ideally suited to the East L.A. neighborhood of Casa 0101 Theatre, which holds the promise of being one of the jewels in the crown of this city’s theatrical community.


But the best that can be said of Nanin’s standard paint-by-numbers effort with Frida – Stroke of Passion is that she stays within the lines.


Unfortunately, good playwriting doesn’t.

♦♦♦

Tickets remain Available for this Sunday’s Performance.
Friday and Saturday are Sold Out.

Sun, 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM PST
FRIDA-Stroke of Passion
FRIDA-Stroke of Passion
CASA0101 Theater, Los Angeles, CA

For Tickets

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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