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BWW Review: FRIDA...A SELF PORTRAIT at Portland Center Stage

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FRIDA...A SELF PORTRAIT runs through November 7.

BWW Review: FRIDA...A SELF PORTRAIT at Portland Center Stage

Vanessa Severo had me the moment she walked on stage and introduced herself as "the face in the program." I thought: Is she just welcoming us back to the theatre after such a long hiatus? Or has the show started already? The answer is "both," and that simultaneous inhabiting of multiple spaces is what defines FRIDA...A SELF PORTRAIT, Severo's solo show now playing at Portland Center Stage.

The play is about Frida Kahlo's life, but it's also about Severo's life, and her journey to find Frida is just as much a journey to find herself. It's both intimate and guarded -- you feel like you're learning someone's most closely held secrets, but at the same time there's a door you can't enter. The show also inhabits multiple artistic spaces -- it's not just a play, but a movement piece and a series of paintings brought vividly to life.

The play is framed as an interview of Frida Kahlo by a writer from an architectural magazine who has come to Frida's home, La Casa Azul, to learn about the house. Bedridden, Frida is happy for the company and talks to him about everything -- the house, her life, her art, Diego Rivera, loneliness..., it's a story of pain, passion, and resilience told while moving between sharp, witty commentary and morphine-induced haze. Severo frequently steps out of Frida's story to reveal parts of her own -- she has been told that she resembles Frida Kahlo (minus the unibrow), which spurred a journey (both literal and metaphorical) to discover exactly what that means.

Directed by Joanie Schultz, Severo makes masterful use of the simplest things. The set consists of three clotheslines hung with costumes, which become multiple settings and a good-sized cast of characters. For a solo show, it often feels like there's an ensemble on stage, which is due to Severo's ability to quickly transform herself and also to imbue small movements with large doses of meaning. In one brief but striking scene, she plays two characters at the same time -- the gimmick is so simple, but it still felt like magic.

I could go on, but no description of this show will do it justice. I highly recommend you see it for yourself.

FRIDA...A SELF PORTRAIT runs through November 7. More details and tickets here: https://www.pcs.org/frida-a-self-portrait


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