Frida Kahlo’s Story Is Retold in Pittsburgh Public’s Season Finale


Of Frida Kahlo’s 143 known paintings, 55 are self-portraits. They are painted in bold strokes, with the artist’s face often in three-quarter pose, her eyes engaging the viewer.

It’s a strikingly familiar face to anyone with knowledge of the art world and cultural events of her lifetime – she died in 1954, at age 47, having suffered polio and, as a teenager, a debilitating injury in a bus accident. Through chronic pain, depression and marital betrayal, Frida Kahlo painted. She is celebrated among those giants who reimagined the concept of, “What is art?,” for generations to come.

Her story is currently being retold for the stage by Brazilian-American writer and performer Vanessa Severo in Frida … A Self Portrait, presented by Pittsburgh Public Theater in its season finale, at the O’Reilly Theater June 7-25.

Severo is said to illuminate the artist’s life by “using her own experience, unearthing powerful common ground between [herself and Kahlo], and inviting us to experience Kahlo’s rare genius firsthand.”

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Mexican artist’s self portrait is paired with a mirror that puts the viewer in a frame, facing the artist (above). A MoMA website post on the exhibit briefly explores Kahlo’s life as it related to her dedication to Communism — along with peers including her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — as well as surrealism and feminism. She is quoted as saying, “They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Severo digs into that reality in the solo show that premiered at Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2019. She has since performed Frida at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Portland Center Stage, the Public’s collaborator on American Fast this season. An Oregon ArtsWatch reviewer said of that performance: “The back and forth between Kahlo’s and Severo’s stories is the edge that makes this a bigger story than a self-portrait of Kahlo or reflection of the author. It broadens the reach of what we all have in common with one another.” 


Frida … A Self Portrait is presented by Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown, June 7-25. For tickets, call 412-316-1600 or visit https://ppt.org/production/78806/frida-dot-dot-dot-a-self-portrait.

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