BWW Reviews: BASS FOR PICASSO - Something Fishy

Theater Breaking Through Barriers has a commendable mission statement. Formerly known as Theater By The Blind, they now embrace actors of all disabilities, giving them the chance to appear in roles that might ordinarily be denied them. Unfortunately, with Kate Moira Ryan's Bass for Picasso, they seem to have chosen a mediocre farce simply because the main character is tangentially missing a leg.

Francesca (Anita Hollander) is a food critic for The Times, she has one leg after an accident, and is inviting over some friends to eat the titular Bass for Picasso, a fish recipe out of Alice B. Toklas' (real-life) cookbook, which Francesca is working her way through for her column. The guests include Kev (Terry Small), an alcoholic gay playwright who has a secret about his new play that's about to be performed at Playwrights Horizons; he brings along Bricka (Mary Theresa Archbold), a lesbian playwright who is going through a custody battle and who has secrets of her own. There's also Pilar (Felice Neals), Francesca's dotty ethnically varied multi-lingual lover who is obsessed with IKEA, and Joe (Nicholas Viselli) a doctor who used to date Kev but is now with a man who's addicted to crystal meth and who can't seem to figure out how subways work enough to actually attend the dinner party (until, predictably, the last line of the play).

The play is a strange mix of by-the-numbers sitcom, over-the-top AbFab goofiness, and serious drama about the lives of homosexuals, which never quite gels into any of the genres it cycles through. Plot points are dropped in favor of random new ones, which then in turn are not referred to again. Some of the bits are very funny, such as Pilar's constant references to the children upstairs who are French Existentialists and Bondage Enthusiasts at very young ages, but then we get excruciating monologues about teenage mothers being stabbed in the stomach and of the troubles of homosexual adoption, which are then strangely undercut by one-liners. The script is hit-or-miss, and sadly mostly miss, mainly due to lack of comedic timing from most of the cast. Archbold is impressive as the straight man of the piece, and Neals carries most of the comedy purely with her outrageous cuckooland non-sequiteurs.

Ryan says in the press materials "I don't think it's going to win me a GLAAD award. In fact, I'll probably get censored by GLAAD!" The play does tread close to the line of offensive but it's clearly in an attempt to be ostentatiously shocking, as so much is over-the-top that all seems surreal and nonsensical; but then how are we to interpret the plot points about meth addiction, gay adoption, etc, which are very real problems in the gay community? Are these elements intended to be as zany and irreverent as the rest? It's puzzling.

Bert Scott's lavish townhouse set is gorgeous, though there are a startling number of stairs for a play that features an actress with one leg (though she has little problem navigating them, so perhaps that was the point).

Director Ike Schambelan has a note in the program about casting actors with disabilities, citing the recent controversies of casting a hearing actor to play a deaf character in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and a seeing and hearing actress as Helen Keller on Broadway in The Miracle Worker. Of course, he seems to have had no problem with casting a man who thanks his wife in the program as a gay man (although he's deaf. ...though the character is never mentioned as such., yay). Clearly there are a lot more strides to be made when it comes to PC casting in theatre.


Theater Breaking Through Barriers presents
Bass for Picasso
By Kate Moira Ryan

April 17 - May 23, 2010
Wed & Thu at 7pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Sat & Sun at 3pm

The Kirk, Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street, west of Ninth Avenue, NYC

Tickets: $41.25 call 212-279-4200 or

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

  1. Terry Small and Anita Hollander
  2. Nicholas Viselli and Terry Small



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Duncan Pflaster is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced all over. He also has been known to direct, write music, play the ukulele, (read more...)