We caught the Rep’s final Ignite reading of the festival, Frida. This play is a biographical retelling of the life and career of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. She painted portraits, self-portraits and many other works inspired by Mexico.
Ignite has been occurring for eight years now. Billed as “new scripts out loud,” plays are read by equity actors, without costume, lighting or staging. At least that’s the plan.
In recent years, this model has undergone some scope creep. With Frida some of the actors were in costume, probably of their own making. There was some staging, usually with reading lectern in hand. Most importantly, since Frida is a musical, there was piano accompaniment. A long way from a full production, but also more than just a script reading. This recitation occurred in the Rep’s Studio Theater, a basement black box that was packed to standing room only.
Frida is portrayed as a fighter. As another audience member described this play, in the following Q&A, it is about “strong women and weak men.” It is also about the pain that she endured. Physically, she suffered from polio and a tragic collision between a street car and the bus that she was riding. “Six people died, four on the trolley and two on the bus.” Most of her pain was spiritual though. There was the death of her mother, her miscarriage, but most of all it was the philandering of her husband, the artist Diego Rivera.
He was older and the more famous artist. There was love, but she initially responded to his condescension and overbearance with her nickname for him, “the Toad.” After his unfaithfulness this morphed to simply “Fatso.” For a long time her art was dismissed. She was viewed as only the wife, but a tour of the United States or as it is called in song, “Gringolandia,” jumpstarted her career. Her return to Mexico City propelled her to full recognition.
As a reading, at three-and-a-half hours with intermission, Frida is a long play. Performing it would be even longer. As with any Ignite product, it is still a work in progress. Edits were being made right up to its reading. It will be interesting to see if Frida goes forward. It has a large cast, which at thirteen is large for a Studio production and might be envisioned going upstairs to the main stage.