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Satisfy your desire for a play by Picasso

June 11, 2010

One night, when the Nazis were tormenting Parisians, a group of household names got together for a reading of a play. Not just any play. Pablo Picasso’s play, “Desire Caught by the Tail.”

Surrealist Michel Leiris and his wife, Zette, hosted future Nobel laureates Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, of course, and his lover, Dora Maar. Sort of a European Algonquin Roundtable.

Now, the play within the play opens Saturday, June 12, at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles. Trying to memorize the title is like trying to memorize sides before an audition: “Wednesday Night at the Home of Michel Leiris a Reading of the Play ‘Desire Caught by the Tail’ by the Painter Pablo Picasso.”

Playwright David Jette remembers how he first learned of Picasso’s original work. “Marianna, a collaborator of mine in Boston, where I used to live, sent me ‘Desire’ and thought I should do it. We had spent a lot of time on the existentialists. I read it, but then latched onto the story of the first reading even more than I did the actual play.”

So, Jette set to work. I thought I was going to be writing a moody examination of war and art and what the purpose of art during war is, and how it can be an act of defiance against brutality. Our initial research confirmed that.

“I read a lot of Albert Camus and it was starting out rather bleak, but when we brought ‘Desire’ to the ensemble and we read the play that these people were risking their lives for, it became obvious that there was something else going on. These people weren’t coming together just to defy the Nazis, but because it was Pablo Picasso who wrote the play! And it didn’t matter what the play was, they were going to revere it, so we ran with that. The idea of celebrity among celebrities is fun.”

Jette discovered geniuses in their own right “who have people they would brownnose. From there, I decided to go away from doing some kind of drama and make it a farce.”

David Jette

Jette’s initial reading was reviewed and he took some of the critique to heart, but not all. “It’s pretty much the same play. I beefed up the second act a little bit but, really, the staging takes care of a lot of that. A lot of the second act is the performance of Picasso’s play, our play within the play. The first act was a little too long, but everyone thinks every play is ten minutes too long.”

Sold on the cast, he also kept in tact as much of it as he could. “Ian Madeira who read Camus left town for the summer, so Tyler Jenich now has that role. Tyler’s been replaced as Picasso by Fred Ochs and Melissa Powell has come on to play Picasso’s lover, Dora Maar. The others remain the same.” The cast also includes Patrick Baker, Michael Bulger, Jenny Byrd, Dan Gordon, Amy Harmon, and Joseph L. Roberts.  

Thankfully, the name has been shortened to Leiris/Picasso, in polite circles. David Jette also directs the world premiere, presented by the Brimmer Street Theatre Company in association with Bootlet Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles (be mindful of road construction on Beverly). The post-performance reception in the theatre lobby will be catered by The Gastrobus. Tickets.  

Read Ashley Steed’s profile in LAStageBLog here.

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