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Tormented in Life and Art: ‘Fragmented Frida’

April 19th, 2017 Comments off

By April Stamm

Andrea Dantas in 'Fragmented Frida.' (Photo provided by the production via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrea Dantas in ‘Fragmented Frida.’ (Photo provided by the production via The Broadway Blog.)

A life so rich with pain and beauty and so complex with love and betrayal can be enticing and daunting to take on in performance. Many have tackled the challenge of Frida Kahlo’s colorful and storied life on the stage and the screen, and in Fragmented Frida at BAM Fisher Space, writer, creator, and actor, Andrea Dantas gives us her take.

Frida Kahlo was a physically broken woman by her own estimation, “I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” Surviving polio as a child and a horrific traffic accident as a teen spurned medical issues her entire life, leaving Kahlo frequently bedridden and in great pain.

As if her physical torments weren’t enough, Kahlo’s emotional life was fraught with passion, both exhilarating and devastating. Her relationship with her parents was complicated and frequently troubled; Kahlo herself describing the feeling in her home as a child as “very, very sad.” Her adult life was full of revolution and art; her active membership is the Mexican Communist Party, her tumultuous relationship with husband Diego Rivera, and her devotion to both her Mexican heritage and her beliefs in the strength and importance of women when such thoughts were not even starting to dawn on the masses.

Andrea Dantas in 'Fragmented Frida.' (Photo provided by the production via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrea Dantas in ‘Fragmented Frida.’ (Photo provided by the production via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrea Dantas’ Kahlo is center stage during this one-woman show and backed by voiceovers of her parents, Diego Rivera, school children, etc. The play starts when Kahlo is a child and takes us very close to her death. Made up of a series of short scenes, each jumping ahead in Kahlo’s life three to six years, the piece feels rushed.

The choice to take on the entirety of Kahlo’s life in a 90-minute play is misguided. With each scene, the audience just begins to sink into the fascinating life that is Frida Kahlo’s just to be ripped out again and whisked forward. Kahlo was arguably one of the greatest artists of her time (and many have said of all time) and her life was full of more than has been able to be put in hundreds and hundreds of pages of books. Why choose to take the whole thing on in such a short performance?

The choice to take on the entirety of Kahlo’s life in a 90-minute play is misguided. With each scene, the audience just begins to sink into the fascinating life that is Frida Kahlo’s just to be ripped out again and whisked forward. Kahlo was arguably one of the greatest artists of her time (and many have said of all time) and her life was full of more than has been able to be put in hundreds and hundreds of pages of books. Why choose to take the whole thing on in such a short performance?

Portraying Kahlo as tough yet sometimes introverted, beautiful yet self-hating, Andrea Dantas does a valiant job with such a complex figure. She is able to express Kahlo’s physical pain without making that the only focus of the character. Her ponderences, many using actual quotes from Kahlo, have depth and nuance. The one misstep in her performance speaks more to the structure of the play than Dantas’ acting skill. In the first scene, Kahlo as a child is being teased by a chorus of voiceover school peers. “Playing” a child as an obviously grown adult is a huge mountain to climb and Dantas trips.

Working against her nearly spot on performance, are the voiceover’s included as foils for Kahlo. Not only are they stilted and sound “read,” but they consistently tear the audience out from the character they actually came to see. They add nothing to the piece that couldn’t be accomplished through Dantas’ performance itself.

Frida Kahlo’s art and life were full of harsh and beautiful reality. Fragmented Frida feels like a grand generalization instead of the in depth look it could be. The acting talent is there, but the script takes on more than it can chew.

April Stamm is a theatre, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to Edge Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center.