The story tracks a single encounter between Picasso and the official during the German occupation of Paris in World War II. The female character, Fischer, has been ordered to ascertain the authenticity of three alleged Picasso originals, which she claims are for a new exhibition. But wily Picasso manages to tease out the truth -- the Nazis want "a Picasso" for a picture-burning exhibition to destroy "degenerate art." Of course, the artist refuses, but Fischer offers a devil's bargain: Identify one and the other two can be saved by being termed "fakes." Thus begins a verbal fencing match between the ursine, voluble artist and the prim, tightly coiled bureaucrat that ranges from the nature of art and the clash of art and politics on through the details of Picasso's life. Each of the three works comes from a different era in his life, and each was motivated by deeply personal events.
The play is graced by classy work from director John Tillinger and his cast. Goetz's Picasso is a Rabelaisian figure, selfish, sensual, and crude. As Fischer, Arnaz appears to be playing the supporting role, but as the story unwinds, it's Fischer who is revealed to have inner conflicts and hence more dramatic punch, a process that Arnaz traces skillfully. Set designer Derek McLane's arched cavern and Duane Schuler's moody lighting inject romance and weight. Hatcher's bright dialogue, however, for all the chat about art and politics, seems more interested in snippets of Picasso's biography and snappy one-liners (the gags about Germans and Nazis read like a joke book) than exploring something significant. In fact, the entire play seems to lack much of a point beyond offering a portrait of the artist as an old satyr.
Only at the end, when these two characters teeter toward what might become a really strange sexual encounter, does some on-stage drama suddenly ignite. At that point, all sorts of possibilities could arise for Picasso and Fischer. But those must wait for another play.