Picasso at the Lapin Agile

patlaComedian, actor, screenwriter, and musician Steve Martin explores the absurdity of genius and the inspiration for creativity in his first play, the zany and brain-teasing Picasso at the Lapin Agile, presented by the Throughline Theatre Company.

Imagine that Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein meet in a bar, or more precisely Lapin Agile (French for “Nimble Rabbit”), a Parisian Café on October 8, 1904. Heady times are ahead for these twenty-something gentlemen as each is about to turn the world upside down with their fantastic ideas.  Einstein transforms physics with his theory of relativity in 1905. Picasso sets the art world afire with cubism as depicted in famous painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907.

Martin’s script isn’t exactly historically accurate but it is daring in its approach. The two geniuses’ debate the 19th century’s achievements and future prospects, women, and other interesting topics, as the play attempts to explain in a light-hearted way, “the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science.”

Nico Bernstein, Lee Lytle, Hannah Brizzi

Nico Bernstein, Lee Lytle, Hannah Brizzi

Other characters inhabit or drop into the Lapin Agile including Freddie the bartender, Germaine, her lover and Gaston, an amicable old Frenchman with prostate problems. Others who drop in are Suzanne, a Picasso paramour, his agent Sagot, and an idiot inventor Charles Dabernow Schmendiman.  To find a way to wrap it all up Martin introduces one last patron, “The Visitor,” a country boy from the future, who wears blue suede shoes.  If Picasso represents art, Einstein represents science, and Schmendiman commercialism, then The Visitor adds a fourth dimension. He represents the idea that genius is not always the product of “brains”.

The compact size Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre is a near perfect venue for the production. It is as if we are fellow patrons of the bar listening to the crazy conversations around us. The scenery is spartan, just a bar, a few tables and chairs, with nothing to distract our attention from the conversations.

The play is a sweet balance of silliness and seriousness as executed by Director Dan Freeman who coordinates a continuous stream of comings and goings as characters drop in and out of the bar. Jenine Peirce, cast as Freddie the bartender adds an interesting dimension to the role originally conceived by Martin to be played by a simple-minded man, who occasionally says something stunningly brilliant. Germaine, the waitress, and Freddie’s lover, played by Lee Lytle, has an uncanny ability to predict the future. As the play progresses, you slowly realize these two women are perhaps the only two “normal” characters in the bar.

Lee Lytle, Patrick Conner, Steve Gottschalk

Lee Lytle, Patrick Conner, Steve Gottschalk

Steve Gottschalk’s portrayal of Einstein seems just brilliant, down to the classic tussled hair and stuck out tongue. I’ve never met Einstein, but Gottschalk is as I imagine a young Einstein would behave in a bar. Nico Bernstein’s Picasso is the dashingly handsome Spanish artist, full of love for himself and whichever woman is handy. Patrick Conner as Gaston almost steals the show as he dances and sings his way into the bar. That is until the insanely funny Chris Duvall as Schmendiman, the young inventor with huge dreams and inverted levels of knowledge arrives, leaves, arrives, and leaves again. As an ensemble the cast compliments each other, and together with Freeman’s skill as the director, it showcases the talent of the very funny cast. One noticeable discrepancy was the inconsistency in the actors’ accents.

Martin’s script and the skill of the actors kept the audience laughing through the entire performance. Martin displays his own genius as he toys with the audience. An example, when Freddie calls out Einstein for coming on stage early. She grabs a program from an audience member, pointing out that the cast list is in order of appearance and he is fourth to go on stage not third. Or when Picasso says to his date as she is leaving the bar after a bout of heavy kissing “I’ll see you when the play is over:”

The Visitor sums it all up in the last line of the play: “Isn’t it amazing how the play lasted just as long as the lights went up and then down.”

Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Throughline Theatre Company with performances from now through May 12th at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre in the Cultural District. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday at 8 pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. For tickets visit https://www.showclix.com/events/13345

Photos by Rick Moore



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