How to Steal a Picasso is my first play of 2016…and I’m thrilled it was. This is my second experience with William Missouri Downs, and I’ve decided his strength lies in telling us a serious truth fed to us in a farce. With Women Playing Hamlet, the lesson was how women have been left out of the theatre space and their decisions related to taking it back. In this work, art is questioned at its core. Is it art for art’s sake or is it only valuable if it is consumable?
Stephanie Demaree’s dramaturg research and writing peels away the layers to reveal the true backdrop is the economic downfall of Detrtoit’s bankruptcy trials of 2013-2014. The city debated selling its art that was held at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Doing so would flood private collections with this art, but leave it inaccessible to the public. There were rumors of sales of a Van Gogh during this period.
The backdrop of Detroit is beautifully created with the set. It’s detailed and gorgeously conveys a front lawn, insane entrance with poem flags and older home with walls covered in splatter art. Gary Mosby is a master of his craft, but this set is especially gorgeous. The scene and location is essential to the story, and the actors feel grounded and perfectly placed in this locale. With such a busy set and props, lighting can present a challenge. The props were a delight to look at, and Bret Engle (properties) and Sarah M. Oliver (costumes) did an exceptional work in making sure the busyness of their artistic expressions enhanced rather than distracted from the performances. Alex Perry has presented lighting designs that transition easily without being notice. They are a brighter wash that accents the set and moves our eyes to the various locations. David Kiehl had his work cut out for him the ambient noise throughout the production, but it rolled flawlessly with Tanya Brown and her stage management.
I have never been more thrilled with one cast. It was the second night, so the middle had a bit of a pacing issue, but there is no doubt by Saturday the audience will be following along. Tommy Gorrebeeck (Johnny Smith) has made his Unicorn debut, and he’s shown tremendous humor and emotional range. You know how much I love Katie Kalahurka (Casey Smith). She has transformed her physicality and voice timbre again. She uses the building blocks of the craft to build her characters from the ground up. Walter Coppage (Otto Smith) is synonymous with Kansas City theatre and is the star of the show. I could watch he and Cathy Barnett (Belle Smith) all night long go back and forth. Darren Kennedy (Mr. Walker) was amazingly over the top.
Visit unicorn.org for tickets.