Pablo Picasso died in 1973. His former lover and ground-breaking surrealist photographer Dora Maar was not invited to the funeral. These are the opening lines of this show’s synopsis. I’m a sucker for cryptic enticements and thoroughly obsessed with unconventional venues—like small apartments on dark streets—and was on-board to experience whatever Colour Me Pablo had to offer.
And, as it turns out, that is quite a lot.
The title is a play on Barbra Streisand’s Colour Me Barbra album and Babs herself figures prominently here. The singer serves as a muse to Katherine Doering’s reclusive Dora Maar—holed up in her small Paris apartment and lip-syncing to Streisand with a manic intensity that is sometimes funny, often charming, frequently disquieting.
Colour Me Pablo is an intimate, surrealist performance art portrait of a mental breakdown. The piece explores the fraught aftermath of Maar’s affair with Picasso in an eccentric, haphazard, grotesquely indulgent cabaret. It’s an intimate, emotionally raw spectacle and Doering (who conceived, co-directed and performs) is a captivating presence.
The performance is co-directed by Curtis te Brinke, who also provides design elements that include some surprises hidden in cupboards and behind draped fabric. Doering performs alongside a projected video presentation that provides atmosphere and visual reference. Depending on where you sit in the very small space, it might be hard to take both in simultaneously. Though the title cards provide some important context, the shift in focus is sometimes frustrating. I preferred to keep my eyes on Doering as much as possible.
There is a key moment in the show—a subtle and yet inventive use of strobe light—after which Doering seems about to repeat the same routine we’ve already seen, as if trapped in some depressive loop; instead, she surprises us with a new element to her performance. As it is a genuinely satisfying, I won’t spoil it.
Paige Sayles’ choreography for Doering’s offbeat recital is specific and mesmerizing, though it plays out like an awkward and spontaneous burst of passion. Part of what makes it work is the complete lack of self-consciousness. The movement is stylized, the tension building gradually until she’s lost in a flurry of desperate flailing.
This certainly isn’t everyone’s jam. But if you’re down for getting comfy in a tight space and witnessing a quirky, kinda sad tribute to a reclusive artist’s delirium—or you just really love Barbra Streisand—Colour Me Pablo is an odd little treat.