BWW Review: Odalys Nanin Pays a Stellar Tribute to Frida Kahlo in FRIDA: STROKE OF PASSION
Frida: Stroke of Passion/written and directed by Odalys Nanin/co-directed by Nancy de Los Santos/Macha Theatre, Hollywood/CLOSED
Mexican born and bred Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a painter of enormous reknown, but more than that...actually, a true renaissance woman, as she left her mark on art. politics. and other aspects of humanity. Most of her painting emanated from Mexican folk art, and her very best are self-portraits in which she remarkably conveys a profound sense of female suffering. Onstage at the Macha Theatre from September 9 with two extensions through December 10, Odalys Nanin's riveting tribute to Kahlo entitled Frida: Stroke of Passion played to sold-out houses and proved a captivating piece of artistry due to its fine acting as well as outstanding writing and direction.
Most fans of Frida Kahlo (Nanin) have read about her tempestuous love for fellow Mexican painter/muralist Diego Rivera (Ciro Suarez), whom she married twice...and her uncanny affairs with famous women including Josephine Baker (Christie Black), and men like Leon Trotsky (Paul Cascante). Rivera was unfaithful having had many extramarital affairs of his own but considered Kahlo his one true love. They lived apart much of the time pursuing their separate careers, but when they did meet up it was as if they had never been separated. They also had politics in common, an explicitly dangerous involvement with the Mexican Communist Party. Kahlo in particular hated poverty and abuse of the downtrodden and saw communism in its purest form as a solution to the problem. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for Kahlo was that she was left a cripple due to a horrible bus accident early in her life. She had 35 operations on her back and eventually lost her right leg below the knee.
Nanin's story opens on July 6, 1954, Kahlo's birthday, and covers the last week of her life to her demise on July 13. The artist is desperately trying to finish a painting, another self-portrait - Autorretrato En Un Paisaje Con El Sol Poniendose where a blazing setting sun forms a halo around her head - and begins to use the paintbrush like a weapon fiercely attacking the canvas. She is intensely unhappy and in excruciating pain With the help of a nurse (Tricia Cruz) she uses crutches to get to a wheelchair. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol throughout, she recalls her many loves and rather happily faces the angel of death (Daniel Lavid) who appears and like the nurse accommodates her every wish. Remarkable work comes from Nanin as Kahlo. She keeps her right leg hidden from view until, for example, a remembrance of a lover occurs, she stands and the leg magically appears allowing her to dance as if in flight about the room.
Nanin really brings out the passion of Kahlo...passion for lovemaking, passion for painting, passion for Rivera, an overall passion for living to the max. In spite of her dependance on drugs and alcohol, Kahlo was vibrant, always ready to party and Nanin makes her personality simply glow. On the human side she was devoted to everyone around her and was considerate of their feelings and complete well-being. A gloriously free, uninhibited performance!
As director of the piece Nanin keeps the action flowing with fine pacing and fluid movement, using the space above the stage and allowing actors to make entrances and exits through the audience.
As writer, she goes out on a limb to show that Kahlo did not die of a pulmonary embolism as stated, but took an overdose of pills, committing suicide. She uses the action of the entire play showing Kahlo's willingness to die and float graciously into the arms of God. Her body was in too much pain to go on living.
The entire supporting ensemble also shine in the piece. Suarez makes a handsome lover as Rivera. Even over -weight, he is a knockout, and one cannot help but remark his deeply engrained romantic spark. Black is exceptionally beautiful as Baker, a gorgeous model who could easily grace any Vegas stage. Lavids makes Judas agile and striking to look at ... and Marisa Lopez and FRANCISCO Medina as the two roving singers Chavela and Manolo respectively are just divine. The classic music adds a perfect touch to Kahlo's complex mood. Marco de Leon has designed a functional bedroom set, and Arietka Gallo's graphics of Kahlo's paintings and nature, especially the clouds rolling as Kahlo passes away are quite astounding. The video projection of Frida lying on her bed brilliantly simulates a mirror above where she can watch herself and her suffering as well as the joy that she and her partners experience as they make love.
This is by far Nanin's greatest acting achievement. and the production is first-rate. Watch for it to return, as did Garbo's Cuban Lover. And when it does, don't miss it!