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The Frugal Repast at Abingdon Theatre Company

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The Frugal Repast
Abingdon Theatre Company

The Frugal Repast
By Ron Hirsen
At the
Abingdon Theatre Company
312 West 36th Street

Featuring: Harold Todd as Man, Dawn Luebbe as Woman,
Kyrian Friedenberg as Boy, David Wohl as Ambroise Vollard,
Frank Liotti as Guillaume Apollinaire, Lizbeth Mackay as Gertrude Stein,
Julie Boyd as Alice B. Toklas, Roberto DeFelice as Pablo Picasso,
Kathleen McElfresh as Picasso’s Companions

Directed by Joe Grifasi
Set Design: Ray Recht
Lighting Design: Matthew McCarthy
Costume Designer: Karin Beatty
Sound Design: Graham Johnson
Production Stage Manager: Kate DeCoste
Casting: William Schill
Production Manager: Pete Fry
Artistic Directors: Jan Buttram and Pamela Paul
Managing Director: Samuel J. Bellinger
Associate Artistic Director & Literary Manager: Kim T. Sharp
Director of Marketing: Michael Page

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 24, 2007

Just when two Picasso paintings and several drawings were actually stolen, from the home of Picasso’s granddaughter, a well-conceived play about a theft of The Frugal Repast, Picasso’s 1904 etching series of two sad circus performers at leisure, comes to the end of its run. Those actual two circus models, whose likenesses Picasso “stole”, rivet Picasso and his jovial dinner companions, by stealing back their own likenesses from Picasso’s dealer’s home showroom, again and again. These circus performers are also aerial artists, so entering and leaving the showroom through roof wires comes easily. In fact, they even create some new artwork, themselves, as each etching is replaced with “collage” notes of cut newspaper letters, to the delight of Picasso, ever the aesthetic. The circus performers are called Man and Woman, and their little curly-haired boy, called “Dumpling”, who can also do acrobatics and play the violin, seems to be consumptive. The stolen etchings would be ransomed back to the dealer, so proper medical care and medicine could be procured; “life or death”, as they announce.

Ambroise Vollard, the renowned Parisian art dealer, from whose home showroom the art is literally lifted, is fond of cooking for his friends. His weekly dinners are elegant and boisterous, so much more, since Pablo Picasso is always at the table, with a different female “guest” each time. As Vollard introduces his friends to each new guest, the rotund and gregarious host insists that each new companion “Call Gertrude Stein by both names, “Call Alice B. Toklas ‘Miss Toklas’,” and “Call Guillaume Apollinaire ‘Apollinaire’.” This bit of formality is repeated for each new companion, and, eventually, for Man and Woman, themselves, as they try to sell the three stolen etchings back to Vollard. Another formality involves the description of the menu and some welcoming gestures. The ambiance is so civil and restrained, that the police are not called, as there’s “no need to involve” them. The one incivility is Picasso’s often overt flirtations and liberties with his numerous female companions.

There is much said about how art is valued, on personal and business levels, and there is also much said about philanthropy for contrasting social and ethical purposes. Vollard is willing to give Man and Woman the etchings back, so they can fetch a better price (than he will offer) elsewhere for their child’s medicine, but it is Gertrude Stein, who actually funds the Boy’s medical care through purchasing back the etchings, “full price”, for her host and friend, Vollard. Ron Hirsen’s new play should be performed in additional venues for some time to come. Joe Grifasi has well-timed directions, including the circus juggling and high wire walking, executed with aplomb. As Picasso, Roberto DeFelice is an incredible likeness, physically and emotionally, with a native Italian accent, black wavy hair, red neck scarf, cuffed pants, and a volatile temper and insatiable appetite - for food and women. Those women are constantly shifted by a bit of costume, a quick hair change, an attitude, an accent, and posture, by the talented Kathleen McElfresh.

The mainstay of the production is Vollard, the art dealer, very consistently performed by David Wohl, last reviewed here as Lazar Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof, both casts. He is robust and gregarious, full of flair as the generous host. Even as the circus culprits depart with his etchings, he welcomes his guests back to the interrupted dinner. There is a sense of class and culture that thrives in this intimate production. Frank Liotti, as Apollinaire, the art critic, writer, and poet, has just the right affectation, humorous and hearty. Lizbeth Mackay as Gertrude Stein, the highly cultured American writer and arts promoter, who expatriated to France, was refined but professorial. Her own “companion”, Alice B. Toklas, who served as her live-in, loyal secretary and editor, was capably performed by Julie Boyd, with long skirts, a bit more feminine than Stein.

Harold Todd and Dawn Luebbe, as Man and Woman, are a striking likeness to Picasso’s etched figures, taut, long-necked, round-shouldered, entertaining in gesture, somewhat colorful, and so very, very human. Their plight of poverty and family warmth is set against the financial largesse and extended family closeness of Vollard’s regular guests. Kyrian Friedenberg is a child actor with a bright persona. The sound and lighting allowed for clear dialogue and dramatic effects. Costumes and wigs were a propos to the characters and setting, and the stage sets were cleverly constructed, with a dining table and steaming chicken dish, appearing and disappearing between thefts. Occasional juggling and circus motifs added dramatic texture.

Before or after attending an Abingdon Theatre Company production, visit Seven, a lively and elegant bistro, with comfortable booths and an international menu, 350 Seventh Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets, 212.967.1919. Tell them you saw them mentioned on

The Frugal Repast
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company

The Frugal Repast
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company

The Frugal Repast
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company

The Frugal Repast
Photo courtesy of Abingdon Theatre Company

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at