April 17, 2017
The recent world premiere of “Fragmented Frida” at BAM is the brainchild of actress, director, and writer Andrea Dantas. The one-woman show journeys the life of famed artist Frida Kahlo, offering a behind-closed-doors look at the incredible adversity she faced. More than anything, the spotlight is on her resilience and vulnerability. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the production goes by quickly—a testament to the rich content of Frida’s personal life, certainly, but also Dantas’ excellent performance.
We enter Frida’s story when she’s still an awkward young girl in Coyocan, Mexico with a toy monkey and a Polio-induced limp. Children’s voices are heard in the distance, taunting her for being Jewish and unloved by her mother. Young Frida is hurt yet rational, telling us mater-of-factly (as if we, in the audience, are her friends) about her rough upbringing.
Soon, Emiliano Zapata’s assassination is announced over a radio, placing us in 1919 at the height of the Mexican Revolution. The fearless, activist, Communist Frida has arrived. We experience the first instance of Kahlo’s need for validation during a hot and heavy, post-protest encounter with her then boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias. “Say that you love me,” she begs. Shortly after her horrendous, near-death bus accident that left her pelvis shattered and confined to a plaster corset, she writes him again: “I love you more than ever, now that you have abandoned me.”
It’s her lengthy physical recovery that gave way to Kahlo’s art career. Known for her deeply personal self-portraits, Kahlo famously asserted, “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” We witness her reality continue to unfold through Dantas’ intentionally fragmented retelling. Tragically, Kahlo’s reality was filled with more illness and injury, substance abuse, emotional pain, and abandonment. The depiction of her time in New York City with philandering husband and fellow painter, Diego Rivera, taps into her relentless loneliness. The most emotional scene comes later in Frida’s desperate, painful call to her sister—Rivera’s latest lover.
Dantas and Director Christine Renee Miller’s full embrace of Frida’s enigmatic, psychological trajectory throughout, adds great dimension to the production. Most successful is the sense of authenticity conveyed, particularly in the movement. As a trained Flamenco dancer, Dantas worked with movement coach Thiago Felix to aptly capture Frida’s physical capabilities in her performance.
Meanwhile, Justin West’s projections are far and few between and not necessarily needed. One poignant image is made at the work’s close, with a projected Kahlo on one side with paint strokes emanating from her; Dantas stands in the center of the same splay of paint strokes on the other side. Above, Maggie Allen’s rendition of Kahlo’s “Two Frida’s” painting hangs, lit. The words, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” ring poignantly true.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson