What I like best about most of Matt Posey’s original plays and how he produces and directs them is the uncanny way he gets inside the minds, psyches and souls of the characters he creates. He doesn’t rely on linear structure or follow a pre-set “paint by numbers” narrative, even when bringing non-fiction characters to life. His play about Hunter S. Thompson (14 Death Defying Acts: An Autopsy of Hunter S. Thompson) and the theater noir William Burroughs/ Alan Ginsberg Bill demonstrate his particular skill at getting under the skin of his characters, giving the audience a unique experience of how those real people may have thought, felt and behaved.
I attended opening night of Posey’s current original Ex Voto: The Immaculate Conceptions of Frida Kahlo with high expectations and came away disappointed. Instead of transporting the audience inside the unusual world of this dynamic, tortured, impassioned, explosively creative woman, exploring the waxing and waning of her physical and emotional pain as the driving source of her artistic output, Posey created her as a flat, stereotyped object. Looking like a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s Museum, this Kahlo trudges along in a surprisingly conventional linear manner. Elizabeth Evans strives valiantly as the play’s object/protagonist but seems fixed in perpetual combative frown, posing as Posey’s concept of Frida drawn from photographs and paintings, never inhabiting her as a flesh and blood woman. It’s as if Posey wrote the play from Kahlo’s overbearing, unfaithful husband Diego Rivera’s perspective. Perhaps it’s hard for any male playwright to get ‘inside’ the essence of a complex woman like Kahlo, even a talented one like Posey? Dante Martinez debuts with promise as Rivera. He gives a multi-faceted, intriguing performance, revealing the genius painter’s vulnerability as well as his predatory, larger-than-life persona without becoming a caricature. He should have been the play’s protagonist. Examples of Kahlo’s art appear throughout the production, in unfolding tableaux, or as sketches she occasionally fusses with, but they seems little more than a peripheral distraction, not essential to her being. Trenton Stephenson and Mitchell Parrack portray quack doctors who abuse Kahlo, utilizing Posey’s signature puppetry in a surreal approach to “surgery”. While their scenes are equally fascinating and revolting to watch as theatrical devices go, they do nothing to expand the audience’s understanding of Kahlo or her suffering.
They feel like some sort of cruel men’s joke about “women’s mysteries.” I wanted to look away in embarrassment. The most evocative, artistic elements of this production come from the musicians and flamenco dancer (Justin Locklear, Stefan Gonzalez and Delilah Buitron), costumed and made up to appear like “Dia De Los Muertos” characters. Most effectively, they convey the brave, twisted, creative desperation that became Frida Kahlo’s motivating muse, through music and dance. With Cyndee Rivera as Kahlo’s long-suffering, devoted sister and Ochre House regular Kevin Grammer in several supporting roles. Overall, it’s an interesting curiosity piece, not quite up to Posey’s usual breathtaking invention. You’ll get to learn some salty Spanish cusswords, too.
Runs through November 19 at The Ochre House, 825 Exposition Avenue in Deep Ellum, Dallas. 214-826-6273
Reviews of previous Posey original productions:
14 Death-Defying Acts of Hunter S. Thompson: https://criticalrant.com/2009/06/18/hitch-a-death-defying-ride-the-ochre-house/
Main image: Elizabeth Evans as Frida Kahlo, Cyndee Rivera as Cristina Kahlo and Dante Martinez and Diego Rivera