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Brushes with greatness
Savannah playwright Jim Holt explores art and comedy with 'Three Picassos'
Rehearsing "Three Picassos": Giovanna Claxton and Alan Lander

Boy With a Pipe, a 1905 canvas by Pablo Picasso, fetched $105 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2004, breaking the record for the sale price of a single painting.

This caught Jim Holt’s attention. “I’ve read stories that speculated on the possibility that there were more Picassos out there,” says the Savannah–based playwright. “Of course, he was very prolific.

“Even when he was famous, he would do things when he needed money. He would buy a stack of plain white china and do a little doodle on each plate, sign it, and then sell the whole stack of plates.”

Holt, the founder of City Lights Theatre Company, wrote and directed the comedy/thriller Three Picassos, which will premiere Nov. 6 at the City of Savannah’s S.P.A.C.E. venue.

It’s about a woman named Marcella who inherits her dead grandmother’s New York apartment; in the 1920s, so the rumor goes, Grandma had enjoyed a passionate fling with the great painter. Now there may be three long–lost Picasso works hidden somewhere in the apartment.

Complicating matters are a friendly lawyer, whose motives are unclear, a nosy neighbor with an agenda, and a mysterious “force” that attacks Marcella in the middle of the night.

For Holt, “the idea that there might be another Picasso out there, let alone three, was very intriguing. Because of the value. Especially if you consider if they were paintings that had never been seen before.”

The playwright admits he’s not much of a fine art connoisseur, but the story was too good not to explore.

“I used to be friends with Mary Aiken, who was the last wife of Conrad Aiken,” Holt says. “She was a painter, and she was a young girl in Paris and in Spain when all of the famous American expatriates were there, and she knew a lot of these people. She and her husband were very good friends with T.S. Eliot and his wife.

“She used to tell me stories about going to places and seeing a room with two or three Picassos, and various painters who were just becoming famous. She had some of these, although she didn’t own a Picasso.

“So I had this sort of background in mind. I thought about a woman having an affair with Picasso, and having been gifted paintings. It didn’t seem that far out of hand because Picasso had a lot of affairs, with a lot of young women.”

Holt, who recently revived City Lights after a three–year hiatus, is organizing an advisory board for a 2011 Playwright’s Festival; he’s looking for both playwrights and advisors (e–mail to inqure).

Meanwhile, he’s busy painting Three Picassos.

“This is so new that three weeks ago we added a whole new scene to it,” he says.

The cast was already well into rehearsals – and happily, Holt explains, “They loved the scene; it was a very short scene, but it added a lot of dramatic tension to the play. And it also cleared up some things, plot–wise, to really help the show.”

Three Picassos

Where: City of Savannah S.P.A.C.E., 9 Henry Street

When: At 8 p.m. Nov. 6, 12 and 13; at 3 p.m. Nov. 7 and 14

Tickets: $10

Reservations: (912) 507–4112