If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Long Wharf Offers a Spirited "Picasso"

Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein walk into a bar. This delicious high concept for a play takes full flower at the Long Wharf Theatre where a spirited revival of Steve Martin’s popular 1993 comedy, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, is currently on stage. This is one of the better productions seen at the New Haven venue in quite some time and it hasn’t arrived a moment too soon to celebrate the theatre’s 50th anniversary season.

Steve Martin’s intelligence and distinctive humor is seen to full advantage in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” where he bends time and breaks the fourth wall (and ceiling!) to host a debate about art versus science between two geniuses both celebrating the start of the 20th century. Set in the famed Paris bar in 1904, a youthful Albert Einstein (the wonderful Robbie Tann) and handsome Pablo Picasso (Grayson DeJesus) meet and chat with other patrons who include a wry bartender (Tom Rhs Farrell), his restless wife (Penny Balfour) an aged barfly (David Margulies, priceless) and lovely Suzanne (versatile Dina Shihabi), who had a one-night fling with Picasso and is there to continue the romance.

Gordon Edelstein’s breezy direction of this smart comedy works well with his energetic cast. Chief among these is Mr. Tann whose delightful incarnation of Einstein charms from the moment he enters the scene. It is a hyper-verbal, hyper-active performance of verve and panache and Tann doesn’t miss a comic beat in the playing of what is the best-written part in the play. DeJesus has the less-flashy role as Picasso, but his character simmers with animal magnetism and fierce intelligence nonetheless. Both women are marvelous here with Miss Shihabi a standout playing three different characters to dizzying effect and the great character actor, David Margulies, possesses the stamina of actors half his age and easily steals scenes with abandon.

The play itself is often too clever for its own good and some of the exchanges have a tendency to sound repetitive. Even at 85 minutes, it becomes a comic sketch extended beyond its due date appearing to end at least three different times. Michael Yeargan’s simple set design isn’t as detailed as one would expect especially when Martin’s writing takes us to heights of magical realism. But Jess Goldstein has done quite well with the costuming as has Donald Holder (lighting) and David Budries (sound). All said, this lively French pastry of a comedy should please even the most discriminating of theatergoers. Tres bien!

Note:┬áDon’t let Long Wharf’s deceptive ads for the play fool you. Steve Martin is not a member of the cast.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through December 21. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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