Geniuses Collide in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" opens March 25th at The ArtsCenter
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" opens March 25th at The ArtsCenter

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" opens March 25th at The ArtsCenter
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" opens March 25th at The ArtsCenter

Emmy® Award-winning white-haired comedian/comedy writer/actor Steve Martin, that wild-and-crazy guy from the Golden Age of NBC TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” added the title of playwright to his already impressive resume in 1993, when he wrote his first play, the Off-Broadway hit Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which opens March 25th in the Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC, and runs March 26th and 27th and March 31-April 3.

“I read the play a few years ago just for fun,” recalls ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke, who will produce and direct the show. She adds, “I’m a pretty big Steve Martin fan, and I’m impressed with the amount of things he pursues outside of acting in films — writing novels, plays, New Yorker articles, playing with the Steep Canyon Rangers. He seems curious about life and I find that fascinating….

“I love that [Picasso at the Lapin Agile] is a comedy,” Schulke says, “and that it tackles some pretty big issues (the nature of art vs. the nature of science; the relations between men and women; etc.) with a light touch. It’s pretty easy for me to find humor in everyday life so the play is right up my alley taste-wise. Plus, all the characters are smart, witty, and quick. I really appreciate that.”

Schulke says, “The play takes place in the Lapin Agile [which means ‘the nimble rabbit’ in French] in 1904. The bar is just opening up for the night, and the regular crowd starts to show up. [They include] Freddy (Dan Oliver), the bar owner; Gaston (Jon Wilner), a regular; and Freddy’s girlfriend Germaine (Jenny Wales). Joining them for the evening are [German-born theoretical physicist Albert] Einstein (Aaron Dunlap), who is meeting the Countess (Sarah Donnell); Suzanne (Donnell again), who is hoping to meet [Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo] Picasso (Adam Sampieri); Sagot (Jeff Aguiar), an art dealer who has just managed to buy a Matisse; and [Charles Dabernow] Schmendimen (Nick Karner), a hapless inventor.

“Over the course of the evening,” says Jeri Lynn Schulke, “this motley crew of characters discuss and debate the relations between men and women, the nature of the universe, the relative merits of art and science, the future, love, creativity, and inspiration. In the end, a mysterious Visitor (Lucius Robinson) brings a message about the future; and the all toast the 20th Century.”

The "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" cast (from left) includes Jeffrey Bryan, Jeff Aguiar, Jon Wilner, Dan Oliver, Nick Karner, Jenny Wales, Lucius Robinson, Adam Sampieri, Sarah Donnell, and Aaron Dunlap (photo by Lyndsay Booth)
The "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" cast (from left) includes Jeffrey Bryan, Jeff Aguiar, Jon Wilner, Dan Oliver, Nick Karner, Jenny Wales, Lucius Robinson, Adam Sampieri, Sarah Donnell, and Aaron Dunlap (photo by Lyndsay Booth)

In addition to ArtsCenter Stage producer and director Jeri Lynn Schulke, the creative team for Picasso at the Lapin Agile will include technical director and set designer Neil Williamson, lighting designer Lawruh Lindsey, costume designer Sachi Denison, properties manager Devra Thomas, sound designer Jil Christensen, and stage manager Shaun Jamieson.

Schulke says, “The set is based color-wise on the painting ‘At the Lapin Agile’ by Picasso (lots of muted browns, greens, yellows, and orange). The flooring and the bar also reflect the shirt of the harlequin in the painting (it has a diamond pattern). The set is simple: a bar, some tables and chairs, a wall, hanging windows, and fence posts. The windows and fence posts are based on the windows and fence posts from the actual Lapin Agile in color: a blue-green color.

“There are hanging elements from paintings to street lamps and indoor lamps,” says Schulke. “There are set pieces (the fence posts, the street lamp, and a replica of the Lapin Agile (the agile rabbit) poster that is outside the actual Lapin Agile that are in the audience area, again, bringing the world of the play and our world together.”

She adds, “The lighting is simple, with a few magical touches highlighting the other-worldliness of the play. There are hanging lamps (street and indoor lamps), as well as stars that come out in the end. There is a lighting event when the Visitor arrives….

“The costumes are again along the lines of the [Picasso] painting ‘At the Lapin Agile’ — lots of muted browns, greens, oranges and yellows,” claims Jeri Lynn Schulke. “Most of the men are in suits of various types — some three piece (Sagot), some just suit jackets (Gaston). The clothing reveals each character’s place in the world: Freddy and Germaine are in working class clothing; Picasso in a loose work shirt; Sagot in a three-piece suit; Einstein in a suit jacket; Suzanne in a bohemian-style skirt and blouse; Schmendimen in a bow tie; etc.”

Schulke points out, “The script calls for the Fourth Wall to be broken a number of times — the characters speak directly to the audience, etc. — [and] I think this device highlights the magical nature of space and time (in line with Einstein’s theory). While this isn’t necessarily challenging, the staging and design concept have taken this idea a bit further.

“The bar itself is brought out into the audience,” says Schulke. “The characters enter and exit through the audience — which is in the bar — [and] the characters address the audience more than what is called for in the script. We believe this adds to the magic and supernatural note on which the play ends.”

ArstCenter Stage producer and director Jeri Lynn Schulke adds, “The audience should come prepared to laugh — the play is very funny and for the quick-witted, just like Steve Martin. While there are big topics debated and discussed during the course of the play, it’s done with humor, wit, and light-heartedness.”

The ArtsCenter presents PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at 8 p.m. March 25 and 26 and April 1 and 2 and 3 p.m. March 17 and 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;; or

SHOW: and








The Play: (Wikipedia), and (Internet Off-Broadway Database). The Script: (Google Books).

The Playwright: (official website), (Wikipedia), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).


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 preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).