BWW Preview: HOW TO STEAL A PICASSO at Unicorn Theatre

Now in previews at the Unicorn Theater and opening on Saturday is what promises to be an exceptional world premiere production of a new comedy by William Missouri Downs. The play is called "How to Steal a Picasso."

"How to Steal a Picasso" was honored last year as a national finalist in the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference. Downs describes his new show as a "feisty family heist." This is the first mounted production.

The Smiths of Detroit are a family of artists. The show opens on an animated conversation between Casey Smith and her long lost fraternal twin Johnny Smith. Johnny is the black sheep of the family. Although artistic to his core, Johnny has shunned the family "non-business" to secretly become an attorney in New York City.

The two's father, Otto Smith, works as a docent at the Detroit Institute of Art. He has helped daughter Casey gain a job as a Security Guard at the museum. Otto is an overlooked artist. The city of Detroit, the owner of the Museum has filed for Bankruptcy. Creditors are eyeing the museum's considerable collection as assets that might satisfy some of the city's huge debt.

At risk, due to the museum's new business oriented director, is a particular Picasso masterpiece. It has disappeared and Director Walker is certain it has been purloined by someone in the Smith family and he wants it back so it can be sold into a private collection.

Broadway World spoke with the play's Director Gary Heisserer to get an idea of what we are going to see. Heisserer is Professor of Theater at Graceland University and is a board member of the National New Play Network to which the Unicorn is a participating facility.

"This is the third play of Bill's that I have worked on, and I like his twisted view of the world," said Heisserer.

Director Heisserer has had direct contact with the playwright during the rehearsal process. "We talked a lot about the characters before casting; the playwright was in the room during the first three days of rehearsal." Playwright Bill Downs has been available to tinker with the play as it has approached its first performance. Rehearsals began right after Christmas.

"I don't know that I've ever had as cast as talented as these five," said Heisserer. "Four of the actors have acted at the Unicorn before, and out the blue this guy from San Francisco turned up. He was Tommy Gorrebeeck who will be playing Johnny." Joining Gorrebeeck is Walter Coppage as the Father, Otto, Cathy Barnett as Belle, Katie Kalahurka as Casey, and Darren Kennedy as Mr. Walker, director of the museum.

"With Bill's plays, he likes to shoot out of the cannon from moment one." The initial scene is very funny with Johnny and Casey attempting to top each other on the front stoop. "Bill likes to call his plays 'farcical realism.' It is a term that doesn't exist in theater texts. It is grounded in reality, but at times it becomes a farce and at other times, it becomes pretty serious. It has been a fun project."

"Even though this is a comedy, it provokes discussion about how we value things. And that is what I like about it."

"How to Steal a Picasso" finishes its previews on Friday and opens for a two week run ending February 14. Tickets are available at the Unicorn Theatre website or by telephoning (816) 531-7529.

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From This Author Alan Portner

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