The Last Moments in the Life of Freda Kahlo
Created by Jeremy Childs, Karen Garcia, and Todd Olson
Mexico’s most famous painter comes to life…and death. As the world marks the centennial of her birth, we celebrate the most famous painter to come from Mexico, Frida Kahlo. Victim of a tragic streetcar accident as a teenager, Frida was emblematic of the idea that out of pain can come positive energy. She championed the indigenous culture of her country in a style combining realism and surrealism, and her steamy romance (and two marriages) with painter Diego Rivera has been called one of the greatest, if not most unusual, love affairs of all time. Though physically fragile, Frida was a tough-talking woman who smoked and drank, and had affairs with men and women, including one with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. She was a person who had a huge appetite for life, and her legacy and body of work remain sensual and alive, more popular now 50 years after her death.
“An astonishing event…Exciting…Outstanding…I can’t think of anything else like it… A formidable work of imagination…Just when you thought that old-fashioned realism had all but obliterated theatrical innovation, CASA BLUE comes along to say the avant-guard is alive and steaming…The play is fast-paced, disjointed and deliberately jarring. It’s also a visual phantasmagoria, macabre and even nightmarish…You can’t ignore the force of what you’ve sat through, it’s inventiveness, unpredictability, technical brilliance, and modernity. This is theatre as if written by Stravinsky or maybe Shostakovich: grating, uncompromising, alien, unnatural…You come away shocked and overwhelmed…The play has a coherence that’s inarguably artistic…You have to admire the writing troika for having the courage to use Kahlo’s life as the occasion for this bizarre and unsparing drama…A rarity for American Stage: an avant-guard piece that’s getting its first production…I’m impressed with American Stage for making the decision – and having the daring – to debut it in the Bay area.”
“Stunning…engrossing…Raw and bare and exotic…literally overflowing with life and color and anguish…Like a new ride at a theme park, every twist and turn has an unanticipated thrill…The whole thing comes at you with a screaming jolt and keeps on a-coming…How strange the mixture, how full the experience…You will wish you had a rewind button.”
“An inspiring docudrama and fitting celebration of the artist on the centennial of her birth…With so much material to assimilate, it’s a wonder the script didn’t end up disjointed and unintelligible, particularly since the play rejects the conventional linear format. Instead, the meandering narrative is self-sustaining, and the script contains occasional shards of poetic genius…Olson, Garcia and Childs sort out all the puzzle pieces in this mélange approach, reeling from the catastrophic to the comic in a matter of moments.”
“Startling…Eccentric…Kahlo’s life as a series of surreal vignettes…[Olson] and his co-authors created a mosaic, “a picture made of broken things,” that defies any attempt to fashion a coherent, linear narrative out of Kahlo’s life…This is an ingenious approach to Kahlo’s complex personality, and Olson masterfully directs this exceptionally ambitious production, which is stuffed with complex sound and lighting cues, as well as the occasional appearance of marionettes that descend into the action…[CASA BLUE] more closely resembles a peyote hallucination guided by the spirit of a self-absorbed woman frantically trying to mythologize her physical suffering, her emotional turmoil and her modest artistic output.”
“Passionate…fascinating…moving…nightmarish…A warts and all portrait, told in a multimedia format designed for the MTV generation, with a nod to Kahlo’s own artistic vision…filled with moments of beauty and poignancy…It makes you feel like you are peeking inside a Mexican home, with lots of surprise touches, some achieved by the moody and spiritually alive lighting by Joseph P. Oshry…Each [actress] has her own individual strengths, but together they convey a complete portrait, at least one as intriguing as the portrait Kahlo painted of herself…There is plenty within this sometimes curiously told story to inspire and move you. And you have to cheer a local company that takes a chance on an original production that can draw in an audience looking for something new and adventurous.”
“Watching Frida flash by: The life of a dying Frida Kahlo replays as a vivid pastiche of art, passion and struggle…a multimedia production, including clips from some of the movies Kahlo loved, such as King Kong, Tarzan and Frankenstein; puppets and masks; film and a slide show of her art.”
The idea for four Fridas came from several places. First, we didn’t want CASA BLUE to be anything close to a “one woman show.” Impersonation shows fall short, especially when dealing with such a subject as Frida. But there did seem something magical about 4 Fridas. Frida saw herself in multiples. She painted herself WITH herself, she painted herself while studying every detail of herself, she painted her own portrait with others inside of her. So differing views of Frida and others within those views were guides for us. But how would these 4 be delineated? Maybe Frida at crucial times during her life would be quite a perfect way to address her experience of living: Frida at 18 the year of her terrible streetcar accident that branded her life to come with so much pain. Frida at age 25, the year she married Diego Rivera (her “second accident”). Frida at 33, the year she left Diego and sought a world beyond him. And Frida at 47, the year of her death.
Frida was about 5’ 3”, and 115 pounds. In the world premiere production at American Stage Theatre Company, all of the actresses were within 2” of Frida’s actual height, and all likewise diminutive. All sang, 3 of the 4 were bi-lingual (though only one had grown up in Mexico ), and all had an essence of Frida: her spirit, her toughness, her humor, her genius, her fallibilities, her woman-ness.
Careful attention was paid to the progression of the story (arranged roughly chronologically) as it evolves from Frida 18 to 25 to 33 to 47, as if one Frida handing the story off to another, with the other Fridas, having handed the central focus over, playing everyone else in Frida’s life at that time. When they stood alone, the effect was seeing a girl grow up before our eyes, to a young woman, to a wiser woman, to a woman grappling with death. When they stood together, paired en force, as in GOODBYE, their collective power was undeniable.
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.
Karen Garcia (Original Frida 33, Co-Author) recently won the “Best Actress” Award at the Hollywood DV Festival for the SAG independent film “Prism,” and has earned critical accolades for her lead role of Rosa, a Cuban immigrant in the short film “Lauren’s Call.” In addition to many television pilots, Karen has also appeared in over forty commercials including national spots for Verizon, Palmolive, Sears, and Tylenol. Recent stage works includes leading roles at American Stage Theatre Company, like Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, and Conchita in Anna in the Tropics. As a producer she has produced the new musical, Zombies Can’t Climb, and a successful new comedy Grimm Shorts. as well as Blood Rogues, a film in which she will star, produce, and co-direct with partner Jeremy Childs, begins shooting this month.
(Co-Author) has appeared in more than 40 Equity stage productions, including Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, Lenny in Of Mice and Men and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. He has also received professional productions of his commercially successful and critically acclaimed original plays, Vampire Monologues, Palisades, Grimm Shorts, and the Zombie Western Christmas Musical Zombies Can’t Climb (soundtrack available at www. Infinitycatrecords.com). Jeremy has appeared with Robert Redford and James Gandolfini in the Dreamwork’s picture “The Last Castle”, and in the Sony film “Second Chance”. Currently he has two movies in post-production: “Prism” (check out the trailer on www.prismmovie.com), and “Netherbeast, Inc.” (trailer on www.netherbeastinc.com) with Jason Mewes, Robert Wagner, Dave Foley, and Judd Nelson. Currently Jeremy is in pre-production for his first full-length feature film, Blood Rogues which he wrote and will direct with his partner Karen Garcia. Future projects include developing another Screenplay with co-writer Karen Garcia, working title Cuban Indiscretions. Jeremy currently lives in Los Angeles.
Todd is the Artistic Director for the Davidson Community Players in Charlotte, NC. His experience includes leading The Historic Palace Theatre, The Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and the American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL. He was the 2013 recipient of the Florida Professional Theatre Association’s Richard G. Fallon Award for “Excellence in Professional Theatre.” Todd has directed over 150 plays, musicals, and operas, including My Way (which he co-created) at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and I Left My Heart (also co-created) at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. As a playwright, his works include Casa Blue, the last moments in the life of Frida Kahlo, and Joe Corso Re-Enters from the Wings, which won the 2012 Holland New Voices Playwright Award at the Great Plains Theatre Conference and Althea & Angela. Todd received his M.F.A. from The University of North Carolina and is a graduate from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard. He was a teaching fellow at Harvard, and has taught classes at Vanderbilt, Boston University, University of North Carolina, and the University of South Florida.
PROGRAM CREDITS FOR TITLE PAGE
CASA BLUE – The Last Moments in the Life of Frida Kahlo received its World Premiere at American Stage Theatre Company (Todd Olson, Producing Artistic Director) on July 21, 2007. Direction and Sound Design was by Todd Olson
Gina Rodgerguez – Frida 18
Jen Anaya – Frida 25
Karen Garcia – Frida 33
Seva Anthony – Frida 47
Summerwind Productions, LLC – Box 430, Windsor, CO 80528 Email: Summerwindprod@hotmail.com