New Village Arts in Carlsbad is staging latest revival of Culture Clash co-founder’s piece about the legendary artist
Inspiration is where you find it — and for Herbert Sigüenza, it arrived one day in that crucible of creativity known as the dentist’s office.
The actor-playwright and artist was just 7 years old when, in the waiting room of a San Francisco dental practice, he flipped open a copy of a book called “The Private Life of Pablo Picasso.”
“I said, ‘Who is this guy? I love him!,’ Sigüenza recalls now of encountering the Picasso biography, which documented the storied painter’s life and work in pictures.
“I said, ‘Mom, look at this guy!’”
His mother’s less-than-impressed response: “He’s a loco.”
Nevertheless, “it made a big impression on me,” Sigüenza says — so much so that learning about Picasso spurred him to discover his own natural talent for drawing and painting.
And some 40 years later, it prompted Sigüenza to step into Picasso’s shoes, developing a solo theater piece in which he portrays the artist toward the twilight of his career.
“A Weekend With Pablo Picasso,” born and workshopped at San Diego Rep (where Sigüenza is the resident playwright) about a decade ago, has since been staged around the country. And now Sigüenza brings it back to town for a new production at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
Sigüenza says he’s excited to perform the piece because of NVA’s intimate theater space, and also because of the company’s on-site Foundry Studios, which host 16 resident artists and make an ideal tie-in to the play.
Plus, he’s simply eager to get reacquainted with his subject.
“It just gets deeper,” says Sigüenza of what it’s like to revisit the piece. “I’ve kind of aged into it more. I play him at 76, so I feel I’m aging toward that. (Sigüenza just turned 60.)
“The play is about the life experience of an artist, and a lot has happened to me since 2013,” when the piece was last staged locally. "(But) it’s in my bones, it really is.”
The play drops in on Picasso in 1957, at a moment when he’s under pressure to fulfill a commission of six paintings and three vases before the weekend is out.
He addresses the audience as a group of art students, offering them instruction, painterly ruminations and plenty of comic asides. Sigüenza also creates artworks over the course of the performance.
It’s an ideal creative confluence for Sigüenza, co-founder (with Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas) of the much-loved Culture Clash, the pioneering Chicano performance troupe.
Sigüenza’s work has increasingly branched out from the group’s — not just with “Picasso” but with such works as the funny and hugely inventive 2014 Shakespeare riff “El Henry” for La Jolla Playhouse (in association with the Rep), and his upcoming Rep world premiere of the comedy “Bad Hombres/Good Wives.”
He also had a role in the 2017 Disney animated hit “Coco,” voicing the roles of Tío Felipe and Tío Oscar. And lately he’s been teaching playwriting to a group of Latinx students through his Andrew W. Mellon Foundation residency grant.
It’s all about stoking the artistic impulse, and the same is true for his saga of Picasso.
“That’s really been the purpose of the whole play — to make people feel they’ve spent time with a genius,” Sigüenza says. “And ultimately to be inspired to try something themselves.”
‘A Weekend With Pablo Picasso’
When: Preview performance Aug. 9. Opens Aug. 10. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 25.
Where: New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.
Tickets: $25-$36 (discounts available)
Phone: (760) 433-3245