Frida Kahlo. Just her name evokes all kinds of thoughts and emotions. That she was a creature of passion is well known. That her art work is iconic is a given. The images in her voluminous catalog of self portraits is ubiquitous. I have a Frida Kahlo nightlight in the bathroom. I see her every day. Her fraught marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera is legend, as are her relationships with many in the world of art, show business, and politics. She knew all of the European artists of her time. She was well acquainted with Leon Trotsky in his Mexican exile. She had many lovers of both sexes, but, despite their stormy relationship, it was Rivera that she loved best. She suffered from health problems and surgeries, including an amputation of her right leg. She was in extreme pain as death drew near. She died on July 13, 1954 at the age of forty-seven, the cause of which is uncertain despite the official ruling that her death was due to a pulmonary embolism. There are indications that she deliberately took an overdose of medications to end her suffering.
Frida–Stroke of Passion, produced, written, directed and performed by Odalys Nanin, is set in Frida’s Mexican home in the last week of her life in 1954. As portrayed by Ms. Nanin, Frida is semi-bedridden, attended by the strict, albeit kind, Nurse Judith (Tricia Cruz), who bustles energetically as she tries to control Frida’s intake of tequila and to resist her pleas for more medicine to control her pain. Frida gets in and out of bed frequently sometimes to wheel around in her wheel chair, and sometimes to dance or commune with ghostly characters and lovers from her past and present.
The action slips in and out of a tenuous realism with Frida interacting with real characters–her philandering husband Diego (Oscar Basulto); Cuban spy, Teresa Proenza (Kesia Elwin); the well known singer, Chavela Vargas (Sandra Valls); and faithful family retainer, Manolo (Francisco Medina, who accompanies Ms. Valls with his guitar).
The play ventures into into magic realism with appearances of her lovers living or dead—Tina Modotti (Mantha Balourdou); Josephine Baker (Celeste Creel); Maria Félix (Jorie Burgos); the assassinated Leon Trotsky (Paul Cascante), and a brief appearance by her son Little Diego (David Santamaria),who died in childhood. And finally, a mysterious character named Judas (David Ty Reza) appears dressed entirely as a calaca skeleton.
The scenic design by Marco de Leon (with lighting by Sammie Wayne) reinforces the unsettling action with a set that is irregular and broken with a scrim platform upstage that reveals characters when lit up. Screens above the stage floor reinforce the action, especially one with an overhead look down at the action on the Frida’s bed. Trish Moran is co-producer and Corky Dominguez serves as assistant director.
As Frida, Ms. Nanin dominates the stage, delivering her character in a prosaic American accent. The action of the play is convoluted, with characters coming and going in irregular fashion, a result of Frida’s deteriorating condition. Although I commend the actors, a true emotional impact is missing. Frida’s struggle, with its attendant rages, self pity, and destructive behavior should be compelling, but it isn’t.
Frida–Stroke of Passion, presented by Macha Theatre/Films, plays Fri. & Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 2:00 through February 16.