By Austin Kaiser
“Frida Kahlo: Long Live Life” takes place in Frida’s room as she drinks alcohol, dances with her prosthetic leg, and curses at a painting of Diego. Susan Rybin, the actress, looked psychotic. She talked to the prosthetic leg and offered it a drink. She stood in front of the painting, lifted up her skirt and begged Diego to come home. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter from the 1930s who, after suffering an accident, painted death and disembowelment. She was married to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
The stage was decorated with artifacts, the most striking being a giant picture frame that provided a nest for Frida to sit inside. She stared at the audience, imagining a canvas in front of her, and painted peacefully. Her face showed concentration. Her hand showed delicacy. Moments later, she stood and announced, “There were two great tragedies in my life.”
Her first tragedy was an accident in which her bus collided with a car; she was left in a body cast for months. Her second tragedy was her relationship with Diego, a 6-foot-tall, 300-pound man who desired to sleep with many women. Frida told us that her mother, upon seeing the couple side-by-side at the wedding altar, said that it looked like a wedding between an elephant and a dove. Frida’s own appraisal was the opposite. With Diego traveling around Mexico to paint murals and sleep with female admirers, he was the flighty dove while Frida, the partly disabled homebody, was the elephant. What a reversal. And what a sad truth about Frida.
I must compliment the stage design. Frida’s prosthetic leg was not laid on its side like old newspapers, but rather hung on a hook, suspended, and high up as it were Frida’s secret weapon meant to impress and intimidate passersby. In the center, above the picture frame, was a mask of a sugar skull symbolizing not only Día de los Muertos but the party Frida prepared to throw that evening. She rushed around, listing things she still needed to take care of: food, decorations, and her outfit. As Frida gets ready, she steadily becomes more intoxicated and out of control.
Cradling the leg like a child, she swigged the liquor and spoke about her car accident and the steel beam that pierced her hips and “took her virginity.” A fellow bus passenger carried a box of gold dust, which, upon impact, covered her body, “decorating her purple blood with sparkles.” It was difficult to listen to this description. My body produced an involuntary reflex, a tightening of my stomach that made it hard to breathe and harder to listen. Does Frida have to be this explicit? I wondered. Upon reflection, I realized, yes, she did. This brutal retelling is not only necessary to get the facts straight; this powerful event set in motion a pattern that would repeat throughout Frida’s life.
Frida leaned against her painting of Diego. She flirted, tracing her fingers across his jaw. She reprimanded him, thrusting her chin at his. Finally, after cursing his promiscuity, she lifted the painting and threw it to the ground. BOOWOW. That was loudest sound of the night. “Am I a piece of furniture to you?” Frida screamed, her eyebrows twitching and knuckle veins swelling. The painting gave no reply and the silence hung in the room, daring the awestruck audience to console her, as though witnessing a friend self-destruct.
Frida’s party preparation was a loose setting for her rambling and free-associative monologues, with which it was occasionally difficult to keep up. Ms. Rybin’s performance featured many clenched fists and scowls; yet, at curtain call, she cried real tears and showed the full extent of her gratitude and awe. I wish that natural and genuine quality were reflected more in the overwrought acting. A touch of restraint would create a more real-feeling Frida.
This show brought Frida to life on stage, with other versions yet to be resurrected. See it if you like flare and drama, alcoholism and rants. Frida will invite you to her home and treat you the same way she does a canvas: with a waving brush and a desire to depict truth.
“Frida Kahlo: Long Live Life”
Performed by Susan Rybin
Sept. 15 at 2pm, Oct. 6 at 9pm, additional show will be added soon
Director: Luis Caballero
Playwright: Humberto Robles
Co-Producers: Meiling Macias-Toro and Robert Dominguez
Translation to English: Walter Krochmal
Show image by Walter Ventosilla: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.