I am not a professional critic, nor a professional theatre person. I just like to watch theatre, write about theatre, and write plays with my friends. Quotations from the show may not be exact.
I also had the privilege to hug the actress and author afterwards and tell her that I had posted to social media that I would be able to say ‘I saw this when…’ and she should be proud of herself that it was a sold out run. I feel very, very sorry for those of you who didn’t get tickets. Do your best to get there to get some standing room only or grab seats for no shows. Or read this review and cry that you were silly enough to not get tickets weeks ago. Or hope that the Unicorn or KC Rep or another larger theatre is smart enough to pick this up.
This show is a ride that takes a little while to understand, but once you catch on, it is dazzling. Frida spent so much of her time in bed, Vanessa begins the show in an upright bed sleeping. As the audience is walking in. As an audience member, it shocks you, as first you really think it’s just a picture, or a painting – but it’s really her, ‘laying’ in an upright bed. Right as the play begins, as the audience has been watching Frida sleep and stretch in her bed, she begins smoking in bed and completely looking past us.
Now, in retrospect, I am 110% more impressed with Vanessa’s performance after I met her than before. She is the sweetest little thing that hugged me about five times after I told her she did a great job. However, in that bed, smoking that cigarette, her eyes were dark, and she completely looked past the audience, with a gritty voice of someone 20 years her senior. “Come in- Come in” She beckons at the start ” Are the rumors true? Yes.” – and she, from the moment we entered the space, grabs us and takes us on a ride, just with being upright, flat on her back, smoking a cigarette, as she says, “Whores aren’t the only ones that make money lying on their backs.”
Confusion for me was only when the painter, Heidi Van, came on stage. I was indignant “Why is an audience member going on the stage – OH! That’s what they’re doing.” (Which was my entire internal monologue I had to keep shutting off ‘Wow, that is how they’re doing that? That’s so simple. That’s amazing.’)- and she began to paint us through the different ages of Frida – 6 years, 19 years, 22 years – to clue the audience on the ride we were taking. I was lost at the beginning when the painter and Frida danced together in jubilation, but it was later revealed in the text that it was Frida’s imaginary friend while she was in bed as a young child with polio. Vanessa moved between Frida’s ages with amazing force it took a few beats to understand the format between the Artist and Frida (especially since the Artist was in modern dress), but once the show was rolling we followed along.
Vanessa could charge you $5000 for the scene when she is painting herself – and you as the audience – against the mirror, and for the way she plays with the costumes hung on the line. I cannot remember half of the dialogue, I just remember her gorgeous and gutsy delivery from pain to laughter and scary force. She filled that large space – the top of the Living Room KC theatre space – with that monologue alone. And all I can say is I am so sorry if you weren’t there. I was so proud of a local female artist who could take something so complex as Frida and bring it up in simple gestures, costumes, and in the middle sock the audience in the gut with a gorgeous and fantastic explanation of artist as creator, and when the creator leaves what that does to the created. Again, I don’t remember any quotes. I felt like the entire 47 minutes someone put me on a roller coaster and I just had to hang on, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
And when I met the actress and writer afterwards, who was so happy after I told her that she did a good job, and she hugged me at least five times and thanked me, I thought ‘Sweet Jesus, don’t thank me. I am the lucky one.’