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A Picasso

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Welcome to Nazi-Rama! Two weeks ago on the local stage it was a play set in Auschwitz. Last week, a script about Holocaust survivors. And this week, it's City Theatre's production of A Picasso, by Jeffrey Hatcher, in which the artist is interrogated by -- show of hands please -- a Nazi! Can Sound of Music be far behind?

It's Paris in 1941. Those omnipresent Nazis plan an exhibition of "degenerate" art and want to include a work by Picasso. An official from the German ministry of culture, Miss Fischer, has Pablo brought to a dank Parisian basement to authenticate three of his works, since it would ruin the point if they were fake.

A disdainful Picasso perfunctorily acknowledges their provenance ... until he learns that the exhibition ends with a bonfire. A man of outrageous ego, Picasso recants, and this longish one-act play is the subsequent cat-and-mouse game between he and Fischer.

A Picasso, in fact, feels very much like a theatrical game based on the Acting 101 lesson Intention vs. Obstacle: two characters, the motivation of each thwarting the other's. And on that level, Hatcher has fashioned a lively and often funny exercise.

As a play, I'm not so sure. Fischer is a Nazi the way Col. Klink was on Hogan's Heroes: Even with the Third Reich behind them, neither is particularly threatening. Hatcher has made Fischer a woman, I suppose, to add sexual frisson between her and that legendary whore Picasso. But the (and I'm sorry to use this term) self-actualized Fischer hardly feels like a woman living in 1942, especially a Nazi version of same. Picasso's a much better character, probably because Hatcher has a hoot of time using him to lampoon egocentric artists and critics (hey, wait a minute!). But even with strong performances by Rebecca Harris and Mark Zeisler, A Picasso, though never not entertaining, can't shake its studied frame.

A Picasso continues through Dec. 17. City Theatre, 13th and Bingham streets, South Side. 412-431-CITY

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