BWW Review: HOW TO STEAL A PICASSO at Unicorn Theatre

Now running at the Unicorn is the hilarious World Premiere production of William Downs' new comedy "How to Steal a Picasso." Directed by Gary Heisserer, the show tells the story of a quirky Detroit family steeped in the arts while learning to live with each other and in a world where art has become a fiscal commodity.

The scene is Detroit in the days just following the city's bankruptcy. The Detroit Institute of Art holds one of the finest collections in the world. Most were acquired during the auto city's salad days. The city owns the museum. Creditors eye the collection as a means to liquidate their debt. In particular, Picasso's cubist masterpiece "Girl Reading" can earn them up to $50 million towards that end. The painting has gone missing from museum storage.

Otto Smith, played by Walter Coppage, is an artist who enjoyed early success before his career stalled. He now works as a docent/tour guide at the museum. Otto is earnest, honest, hardworking and idealistic in the way that artists often are. Otto's wife of many years, Belle (played by Cathy Barnett), is the mother of two and keeper of their modest home in a run-down area of the city. She is a little flighty, but sweet. Belle as portrayed here kind of reminds the audience of Jean Stapleton in her classic guise as Edith Bunker.

Otto and Belle are parents to Casey (Katie Kalahurka). Casey is in her 20's. She is an artistic rebel. The family's front door is festooned with poetry flags. She has been fired over a disagreement at the Taco Bell. Mainly, Casey peed on the buffet. Her father has pulled strings to get her hired at the museum as a security guard.

The fourth member of the family is Johnny (Tommy Gorrebeeck). Johnny is the most talented of the four. Johnny ran afoul of his father and been missing for more than four years. Johnny has the talent of forging great works of art. The disagreement between father and son came from the father's disapproval of this practice. Johnny left home, subsequently reformed, and went to law school. The play opens on his surprise return home.

We find Casey and Johnny on the front stoop BSing each other as brothers and sisters are wont to do. Belle returns home and is surprised and delighted to find her long lost son at home.

In a successful comedy, it is important that the audience pick up the tone of the piece very quickly. "How to Steal a Picasso" has the audience chuckling by the end of the first several speeches. It maintains its humor in what the author calls "farcical reality" all the way through the fast two act show that is still able to make its serious points.

Every show needs a catalyst character. In this case, he is Darren Kennedy as Mr. Walker, the money grubbing new director of the museum. He is sure that one of the Smiths is responsible for disappearing the Picasso, but the truth isn't quite what he thinks.

This is a good cast, having a good time, and directed well with the participation and attendance of the playwright. The audience received the show famously on opening night.

"How to Steal a Picasso" continues at the Unicorn extended through February 21st due to ticket demand.. Tickets are available at the Unicorn website, at the theater box office, or by telephone at 816-531-7529.

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From This Author Alan Portner

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