A Nazi officer, sickened by the depiction of prostitution in a famous painting, seeks the artist's head. A fiercely possessive lover desires the artist's undivided affection. An old friend, swept up in a Gestapo dragnet, needs the artist's help in avoiding the concentration camps.
And so Picasso bides his time in a Paris atelier, dodging, weaving, tap-dancing, weighing his options and, most of all, inveighing against the pressures of being a vulnerable, venerated figure in a time of madness. "Why the hell does everyone want a piece of me?" he wonders in "Picasso's Closet," Ariel Dorfman's intriguing if emotionally opaque drama, which examines the plight of a petulant iconoclast living under the Third Reich's fastidiously malignant thumb.
Dorfman, a poet, teacher and playwright, knows firsthand about the brutal fist of repression: He was an official in the government of Salvador Allende when the popular Chilean president was overthrown in a 1973 military coup. Dorfman's stage work, steeped in themes of retaliation and redemption, draws potency from the idea that the pain of totalitarian trauma is more chronic than acute. His most celebrated play, the 1992 "Death and the Maiden," tells the table-turning tale of a victim who exacts revenge on the man who raped and tortured her.
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