I Ought to be In Pictures
By Roz Friedman
Perfection!!!! Here’s to the 20th Century full of invention and promise. Gordon Edelstein’s direction and production of Steve Martin’s intellectual comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile is 90 minutes of perfection; it is as light and complex as a fine French pastry and as down to earth as a mug of dark ale. Do not be daunted by the title. “Lapin Agile” means the nimble rabbit and is the name of a musty bar in Paris, circa 1904, where all of the action takes place. Michael Yeargan’s seedy brown set, Donald Holder’s lighting and Jess Goldstein’s costumes capture the ambiance of the time.
This bar, which the painter Pablo Picasso frequented as a young man, is still in existence. The playwright, who is not only a great comedian, writer, and musician, but a connoisseur and collector of art, brings together Picasso and Albert Einstein at a turning point in their young lives. In 1905, Einstein would present his “Special Theory of Relativity” that would change the world. In 1907, Picasso, would paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a painting of great beauty and controversy.
I must admit that this has been one of my favorite plays since I saw it in 1993 at the Off Broadway Promenade Theatre. We do so miss that space. The marvelous debate between art and science and the creative process used in both, which they share here in the play, reminds me of the passionate conversation on the same subjects during my freshman year at Bard College. That was many years ago, but the subject matter still remains relevant and important.
Embodying the characters are well-chosen actors. Robbie Tan is delightful as Einstein. As soon as he ruffles his hair into the scientist’s familiar hair style, we are captivated by his joie de vivre, his crazy logic, and incredible math skills. Grayson DeJesus could be a bit stronger but is fine as the sex-crazed egoist Picasso, who has slept with Suzanne, the versatile and pretty Dina Shihabi, but does not remember her. (Shihabi is The Countess and the Female Admirer, as well.) However, Suzanne has in her possession a drawing he made for her, and this gives her bargaining rites. It was so good to see David Margulies; he always nails his part -- this time, Gaston; an old man who loves women and wine, he spends much time in the bathroom even when he has not had a drink. His response to that, “One day, you’ll understand,” get’s one of the biggest laughs of the night.
Tom Riis Farrell as Freddy the bar owner, Penny Blafour as Germaine, his insightful girlfriend, Ronald Guttman as Sagot, the art agent, and Jonathan Spivey as Schmendiman are all excellent. But it is Jake Silbermann as A Visitor, who does so well as the surprise guest at this very special event. Silbermann underplays the role of a famous singer, who is time-traveling in blue suede shoes. What fun!!!
The LW program/playbill is a wonderful work of history and art. Picasso at the Lapin Agile -- Hop right over to see it through Dec 21.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO