Photographer Dora Maar witnessed and documented the making of one of the 20th century’s greatest works of art, Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting “Guernica.” Maar was also the subject and inspiration for some of Picasso’s most famous works while she was his companion and lover from 1936 to 1944. Maar’s life, intriguing before Picasso and equally fascinating after, has been dramatized in the play “Adoration of Dora,” which opens Friday, Oct. 23, in a production by KOLT Run Creations.
The play expands on Maar’s early surrealist roots, creating a swirling biography that befits both Maar’s artistic sensibility and KOLT Run’s equally unique production sensibility. The two-person company, founded by Kelley Ogden and Lisa Thew, specializes in accessible but unconventional theater.
“The mission of KOLT is to tell untold stories,” Ogden said while waiting for a “Dora” rehearsal to begin. Ogden plays one of two Dora Maar iterations in playwright Lojo Simon’s free-flowing narrative.
“Dora Maar has a compelling interesting story, and it’s been overshadowed by her connection to Pablo Picasso,” Ogden said.
The Paris-born, Argentina-reared Maar has often been characterized as simply Picasso’s lover between his relationships with Marie-Thérèse Walter, with whom he had one child, and Françoise Gilot, with whom he had two more. Others believe she was his most significant muse and the only intimate who was really an intellectual or artistic peer. She went back to the art world after her years with Picasso but later became reclusive and devoutly Catholic, living modestly in Paris and in a house Picasso gave her in Provence. She died in 1997 at the age of 89.
Maar is the subject of some of his most famous paintings: “Portrait of Dora Maar,” “Dora Maar Seated,” “Weeping Woman” (all 1937) and “Woman Dressing Her Hair” (1940). The 1941 portrait “Dora Maar With Cat” is one of the world’s most expensive paintings, selling for $95 million in 2006.
“She thought, ‘He’s going to paint all these wonderful portraits of me,’ but she admitted much later in life ‘all of his portraits of me are lies. They’re all Picasso, not one is Dora Maar,’ ’’ Ogden said. “Yet that became her identity, that’s what everybody knew her for.”
Maar’s time with Picasso emotionally devastated her after their breakup and derailed her own artistic career. They met in 1935 when she was the set photographer on “Le Crime de Monsieur Lange,” directed by Jean Renoir. Picasso was 54, and Maar was 28. Their next meeting – in 1936 at the cafe Les Deux Magots, where Maar was playing a knife game with her splayed fingers on a wooden table – led to their involvement. Soon after Picasso moved Maar into an apartment around the corner from his studio, even though he still lived with Walter.
“I think it was just a lot of sexual passion and heat,” Ogden said. “She was hypnotized by his genius because he was so creative and so interesting, and she wanted to capture that in her own work and find a way to articulate that.”
Her photographic documentation of Picasso’s progress on “Guernica” has provided invaluable insight into how the anti-war piece evolved. Picasso discouraged Maar from making her own work while they were together.
“She was just about to break through as a photographer in her own right when she met him,” Ogden said. “This was a world of possibility and a world of sophistication that she wanted and craved. She didn’t realize that Picasso would never allow her to have her place.”
In the play, Dora Maar is split between two actresses – Ogden as Maar and Bridggett Bess as Dora. Dora is becoming consumed by her connection with Picasso at the time of their relationship; Maar is an older, more reflective shadow-self.
Director Kelli Raines said the play is about the search for identity, “about finding your voice amidst a cacophony of voices, and sticking to it and following your own path.”
That idea also describes KOLT Run as it has created theater in Sacramento, embracing a variety of styles and often performing in non-theater spaces. Recent productions include “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is,” a literate comedic romance written in rhymed verse and told through two lectures on the poetry of William Blake. “My Own Stranger,” adapted from the writings of Anne Sexton, was performed in art galleries and culminated in the Crocker Art Museum Ballroom. “Vinegar Tom,” a witchcraft hysteria allegory by Caryl Churchill, was staged in the long-abandoned basement pool of the Elks Tower in downtown Sacramento.
“Lisa and I have spent our whole lives doing theater, and the shows that stick in our heads after all these years are not the ‘good’ shows or the ‘bad’ shows. They are the shows that challenged us, that gave us a new perspective,” Ogden said.
Every show they do is a one-off until they’re inspired to do another.
“Why do the same shows that other companies are successfully doing? Or do them in the same way?” Ogden asked.
“Our goal is to upend your expectations – whether that’s doing theater outside of a typical theater space or refusing to roll out a pre-programmed season of shows. All we promise is a unique experience.”
Adoration of Dora
What: KOLT Run Creation presents a drama by Lojo Simon. Directed by Kellie Raines.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 14.
Where: Sierra II Center, Room 10; 2791 24th St., Sacramento
Information: 916-454-1500; www.koltruncreations.com