Sunday, April 29, 2012

Theater Review: Rubber Chicken Theater Presents Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Friday evening I went to see a local production of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile directer by Greg J. Anderson. The play is hilarious and the production company did an excellent job of conveying the nuanced wit of Steve Martin. When the stars came out at the end, you got it.

The setting for this play is a bar in Paris called the Lapin Agile. For the non-French speakers here, Lapin means rabbit. And "agile" (pronounced ah-jheel) means agile. Or nimble. It's the nimble rabbit, and home-away-from-home for the womanizing young Picasso, as famous for his women as for his work.

People who write for Hollywood or for the theater understand that script writing is about creating great moments and great lines. It's a a mark of Steve Martin's giftedness that he has been able to produce so much rich material over the course of a lifetime. I would compare him to Oscar Wilde on this score. Had Wilde been born in the twentieth century he would no doubt have been at home in Hollywood after getting his start on Saturday Night Live.

Live theater is such a high risk venture. No matter what you're feeling or going through you have to be on. There are no second, third and fourth takes if you don't get it right the first time. The show proceeds, unedited. And in this show the pace is fast, with lots of dialogue for all the main characters. If anyone forgot their lines you couldn't tell. There were no prompters and apparently no need.

Returning to the set, it's simple and comprehensible as a bar. There are a couple small tables, one stage right and the other stage left, and a few bar stools in front of the centrally located bar itself. Behind the bar is a painting of sheep in a pasture, which at various times becomes the focus of conversation. How the various characters respond to the picture is revealing.

The first to arrive are Freddy (Quentin Roth) and Gaston (Nick Elias) who do what bar settings must do. They banter as bartender and bartendee. Next to appear is an odd looking fellow in a suit who says he's here to meet a woman. He takes a seat and begins scribbling notes in a book. The banter goes on until finally he's asked his name. When he says he's Einstein, the bartender gets angry and says that Einstein is supposed to appear fourth in the play and not third. He leads Einstein into the audience, grabs a program from someone's hand and points out the cast "in order of appearance." Einstein leaves, apologizing for his error. Steve Martin's fingerprints are all over the place in this script.

Amanda Sjodahl as the waitress Germaine enters next and this trio of regulars at the Lapin Agile discuss themes that will set up the later arrival of Picasso himself. Einstein (Jonathan Manchester) returns and awaits the lady he is to meet at some other club in the Moulin Rouge. The bar staff are confused, but Einstein notes that "she thinks like me." It is soon learned that the book he is writing is called The Special Theory of Relativity. And indeed she does eventually arrive before it's all over.

Suzanne (Laura Grieme) arrives fifth, another one of Picasso's amore's (victims) smitten by the art world's most beloved narcissist. Her story continues the setup. She has one of his drawings. But when Sagot (Tony Barrett) the art collector arrives and sees it, he notes that it would be worth more if she could get him to sign it and offers to buy it. Barrett played the role well.

The discussion is re-directed to the painting of a pasture with sheep and it gets compared to one of Picasso's drawings. The pasture scene has a simple explanation (except for that of the complex Einstein) whereas the Picasso drawing has "a million, a billion, a trillion opinions, yet the drawing remains the same." Can this be a summing up of the great divide between elitist art and popular art for the masses?

Finally Picasso arrives, the star we've all be waiting for, played wonderfully by Pat Carrol exuding confidence and charm. Except when it comes to Suzanne who is there to worship him, and he can't remember who she is. "You're a womanizing bastard fraud," she exclaims. His retort: "If you're trying to praise me that's a poor choice of words."

Once Picasso's on the set Carrol turns him into a real presence. But so is Einstein. But who could have anticipated these bright lights having to compete with yet two more unexpected characters. The first is Schmendiman, played with hilarious aplomb by Stephen Bock. Picture a cross between Steve Martin and Will Farrell. You laugh just because. Schmendiman is an entrepreneur businessman. When Einstein, Picasso and the entourage are talking about what the twentieth century will be like, Schmendiman chimes in that he knows what the building materials will be like. He's just developed a new product for building walls made from uranium, cat's claws and asbestos.

Well, you get the idea.

Finally there is yet another star, this one from the future. But I'm not going to spoil it for you. He just brings another dimension to an already multi-dimensional story. It's a little like the foam that spills over when you pour too much beer too quickly into a frosted mug. Except in this play they were all relishing the wine.

Some lines that I especially liked in the play included these...
"Ideas are like children. You have to watch them carefully or they might go wrong."
"A mirror is like the mind. If you don't use it, it won't reflect."

Kudos to director Greg J. Anderson for assembling this cast, for doing what it takes to bring to life one of Steve Martin's treasures here in the Twin Ports. 


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