Dallas — Ash Studios in Fair Park is an ideal setting for House Party Theatre’s production of Desire Caught by the Tail by Pablo Picasso. Directed by Chris McCreary, the play unfolds outside within touching distance of the audience. Actually, it would not be a stretch to say that the minute the audience enters the space the experience begins. They just do not realize it yet.
If you did not know that Picasso was a playwright, you are not alone. He wrote two full- length plays; Desire Caught By the Tail was his first. It was written in three days in 1941 while he was living in Nazi-occupied Paris. Often described as his World War II surrealist play, the first staging was directed by Albert Camus and starred Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Picasso had extensive experience designing for the stage (Parade, Le Tricorne, Pulcinella, Cuadro Flamenco, Antigone, Mercure, Le Train Bleu, Oedipus Rex, Afternoon of a Faun, Icare) so conceiving a work for the theater was not outside of his familiarity.
In choosing to stage the piece outside, McCreary interjects the characters into the environment, shifting the role of the audience unknowingly from observer to that of participant. Big Foot (Ted Gwara) roams around the undefined playing area freely prior to the start of the show, interacting with The Cousin (Reese Arrington) and Bow Wow (with a barking dog, for real). Hunger seems to be a unifying theme because food is one of the main topics of conversation among the characters. Perhaps this was an intentional reference to the hunger being experienced during that time of war.
The ground at Ash Studios is a mixture of earth and various sized rocks and pebbles, satisfying the play’s requirements for an earthy environment. It is unclear whether the outdoor pieces are intentioned as sculptures, but they have now been appropriated into the theatrical frame, serving as set pieces (one large iron object has a chaise on it). Big Foot and Tart (Bao Ngoc Le) use the large iron structure-with-chaise the most. It is from this position that Big Foot has one of the best monologues in the play where he is writing a love letter and speaking of the “needlepoint of desire.”
The script is organized according to what fits with what, as opposed to any chronological order. It fits within the surrealist style in that it has a unifying idea (which is different from saying it has meaning) and it presents that idea in ways that are unrealistic. Ash Studios created murals in the style of Picasso during his cubist period, specifically for this play. Prior to the start of the play and within clear view of the audience, artists are painting panels at the far end of the studios, their movements frenetic and without any continuity.
Several characters are positioned on the rooftop of part of the studio building. This works out perfectly for the second act where, in the script, five pairs of feet are outside the doors of hotel rooms. Instead, for this production, the characters sit on the edge of the roof and fall backward, feet dangling off the edge while repeating the lines “My chilblains. My chilblains. My chilblains.” This is just one moment that is laugh-out-loud funny, catching one off guard.
Woven throughout the play are eloquent passages of pure poetry and well-developed prose. Favorites include “A bullfight in the arena of meme,” “the oysters of his eyes,” and “Icebergs are flowing down the bone of the marrow.”
The cast of characters includes Onion (Greg Bussell), Silence (Katie Smaczniak), Fat Anguish (Matt Malone), Skinny Anguish (Zoe Kerr), Round End (Sarah Hamilton) and the Two Bow Wows (Nietzsche and Sophie).
This play is not often staged, so take this rare opportunity to see it. It is a work that should be experienced and House Party Theatre has found a way that is quite effective, and most importantly, enjoyable.