|Author & Director Notes
Telling Frida’s Story in a “very Frida way”
This month marks the centennial of Frida Kahlo’s birth and there is no definitive dramatization of her story. There are reasons for this; the subject matter has so many sides and shades and colors, it’s a behemoth effort to dramatize them fairly and completely. Our goal with CASA BLUE has been to tell Frida’s story in a “very Frida way.” In a way that embraced Frida as a collage of myriad contradictions: a surrealist who considered herself a realist, a Catholic who never went to church, a Communist who craved money, and an un-ambitious artist who obsessed about her legacy. She was extremely devoted to her husband Diego Rivera…and a bisexual who relished her affairs with women (just like her husband). She was a fiercely independent woman who constantly defined herself as partner to other powerful men. She was a surrealist, a realist, a symbolist, and a portrait painter. She loved American movies, particularly low brow comedies and horror flicks like Laurel and Hardy, Tarzan, The Three Stooges, King Kong, and Frankenstein. She has become among the most recognized artists in the world…and she painted only about 150 canvases, mostly with herself as the subject. Frida was, as was said at her funeral, an “intimate of Mexico, in vertigo and grace…a mutiny full of auroras.” Frida Kahlo was all of these differing and disparate things.
So to us, the “very Frida way” of dramatizing her story meant that a range of aesthetic filters through which we told her story was not only allowable, but desirable: a dreamlike scene followed by a scene employing a powerful symbol followed by a clean portrait followed by a harshly realistic scene, etc. We employed the things we found in her paintings, photographs, and life: a puppet theatre over her bed, masks, old movies, raucous affairs, etc. Dramaturgically, a mosaic (a picture made of broken things) seemed more of a right model than a linear story beholden to traditional Aristotelian rules. This was the best way, in our estimation, that we could address and dramatize the many facets of such a complex subject.
The world has known the Frida phenomenon for decades, and yet the first comprehensive showing of her works in her own country didn’t happen until this summer. We hope this dramatization of her story has a life beyond this centennial of her birth.
Thoughts on the CASA BLUE Set Design from Michael Newton-Brown
When discussions began about the design options for CASA BLUE, the script was still in development. Initially, I thought of using a large construct, as in an art gallery installation. We knew we wanted to use projections, and fluidly create a sense of various locales. Actors should move around and through this abstract assemblage, and it would provide surfaces for projections and textured lighting.
As the script developed, the story emanated from Frida’s bed, her home, and native roots.
This made the choices more specific. While grounding the story at Frida’s home in Mexico, it still needed to flow in many directions. Her bed revolved, giving various scenes a different perspective. The bed also covered a hidden escape in the floor. Several acting areas at different levels were added to the basic design; these could be isolated with lighting. One level contained a wooden floor supported by stone, part of one acting area. When that floor was removed, it revealed a carved stone tub filled with water, lighted from within, and part of another area. The home’s walls were the projection screens. In addition to accepting projections, one wall actually was a scrim, revealing short scenes as needed.
At first glance, the setting offers a simple interior of a Mexican home, but its flexibility is capable of taking one’s imagination to the many places CASA BLUE explores.