Animal Magnetism of 'The Animal Monologues' - Theatre Review

By Bill Garry

The last week in the life of Frida Kahlo is the subject of the Macha Theatre's original production of "Frida - Stroke of Passion." Writer-director Odalys Nanin has created a comprehensive tour of Frida's life with Mexican spit and fire. Ms. Nanin is also the star, portraying Frida Kahlo as a playful lover of life who has been cursed with an imperfect body (born with polio, victim of a horrific trolley accident) and excruciating episodes of pain.

The play is set in Frida's bedroom where the artist, at age 47, is addicted to pain killers, alcohol and sex. Conspiring against her sex life is her uncooperative body and her nosy nurse. Frida perks up only when her husband, Diego Rivera, deigns to visit. But their relationship is irreparably wounded from years of intentional and unintentional hurt.

The play is laid out in brief episodes -- a mix of dreams, memories and current (July 1954) action. Most scenes focus on Frida's bisexuality, bringing female lovers -- past and present -- into her bed. The women's visits are used as history lessons and are overloaded with exposition, helping the audience understand the violent context of Mexican society at the time and the challenges of being a female artist in a very macho Mexico.

One scene is a burlesque with Judas, a.k.a. Death, who acts as Court Jester. Frida's exceptional imagination -- and the play -- comes alive (no pun intended) during this scene, making use of a clever projection screen (explained as the mirror over Frida's bed) and creative stage effects.

Ms. Nanin and her co-director, Nancy De Los Santos-Reza, use the intimate Macha Theatre well, making use of balconies, a roaming guitar player, and creative projections to underline the action. Oddly enough, it is the cast that is not intimate. The actors -- all Latinx with impressive credentials -- deliver broad, stagey performances better suited to a Telenova than a live show ten feet from the audience.

The play tells us that Frida was a woman of tremendous artistry, passion and conviction who suffered and witnessed tremendous loss. But we don't feel it. To be more than a history lesson, the play needs authentic, extended moments of this remarkable woman's tenderness, anger and pain.

"Frida-Stroke of Passion" plays at Macha Theatre through Oct 21.

Posted By Discover Hollywood on September 26, 2017 10:00 am | Permalink