Starting with its title, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, actor and comedian Steve Martin’s frisky first play relies on namedropping for much of its humor as two real-life 20th century giants — Spanish Cubist painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and German-Jewish theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) — have an amusing fictional tête-à-tête on October 8, 1904 in a seedy Paris bar, where they are miraculously joined by a third 20th century giant — an instantly recognizable the Visitor from the future — whose influence on popular music scene since the mid-1950s ranks right up there with Picasso’s contributions to Modern Art and Einstein’s discoveries in physics.
Performed in 90 minutes, without intermission, this comedy for mature audiences unfolds like a series of interlocking “Saturday Night Live” sketches with Picasso (played for ArtsCenter Stage by Adam Sampieri) and Einstein (portrayed by Lucius Robinson) — two not-so-wild-and-crazy guys still in their 20s when they meet at the Lapin Agile (Nimble Rabbit) — engaged in an epic battle of words, with many of their retorts foreshadowing their subsequent achievements. This verbal volleying about genius and talent and women can be wickedly funny, but unfortunately a last-minute casting change — with Lucius Robinson switching from the Visitor to Einstein and veteran Triangle funnyman Jay O’Berski stepping into the Visitor’s role at the 11th hour — has kept the production from gelling, despite the best efforts of an energetic cast under the guidance of ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke. The good news is, Picasso at the Lapin Agile should improve with each successive performance.
Last Saturday night, Lucius Robinson was still a little too tentative — obviously not yet comfortable in the skin of 25-year-old Albert Einstein on the verge of his first scientific breakthrough — and no match for Adam Sampieri’s hotblooded Picasso in his Blue Period, when his womanizing ways threaten to undermine his artistic ambitions.
Dramatist Steve Martin peoples his inaugural effort at writing a full-length play with some predictable stereotypes, including Dan Oliver as the Lapin Agile’s amiable owner and chief bartender Freddy; Jenny Wales as Freddy’s flirtatious girlfriend Germaine, an artist’s model and infamous femme fatale in real life; and Jon Wilner as Gaston, an aging barfly and one-time roué whose prostate problems necessitate frequent trips to the restroom.
Actor/director Nick Karner, who exuberantly staged North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s zesty community-theater production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile in September 2005, is a hoot as the nerdy but supremely self-confident crackpot American inventor Charles Dabernow Schmendimen; Jay O’Berski makes his cameo as the Visitor particularly memorable; and Jeff Aguiar adds some guffaws as the mercenary art dealer Sagot, who’s just acquired a Matisse at a bargain price and hopes that his burgeoning relationship with the up-and-coming painter Picasso will be similarly profitable.
But it is the wonderfully wacky blond bombshell Sarah Donnell who steals the show with her outrageous antics as three groupies — the ditzy Countess pursuing Einstein; Picasso’s latest conquest Suzanne, who is hoping for a sequel to her whirlwind tryst with the painter; and an ardent Female Admirer of Schmendimen(!). Donnell’s pixilated performance is worth the price of admission all by itself.
SECOND OPINION: March 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/03/29/1088722/written-by-a-comedian-it-feels.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 23rd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/03/geniuses-collide-in-picasso-at-the-lapin-agile/.)
The ArtsCenter presents PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at 8 p.m. April 1 and 2 and 3 p.m. April 3 at 300-G East Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.
TICKETS: $15-$17 ($10-$12 students and $13 ArtsCenter Members).
BOX OFFICE: 919/929-2787, ext. 201; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://www.etix.com/. SHOW: http://artscenterlive.org/event/performance/318 and http://artscenterlive.org/story/picasso-lapin-agile.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://vimeo.com/21339907.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picasso_at_the_Lapin_Agile (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://www.stevemartin.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Martin (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=95761 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000188/ (Internet Movie Database).
Picasso’s “At the Lapin Agile” (1905): http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1992.391.
Au Lapin Agile Cabaret: http://www.au-lapin-agile.com/anglais/home.htm (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.