The first thing you’ll notice about North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile is this: Picasso does not even appear until six other characters have entered; and each, in turn, thoroughly owns the stage. Indeed, the opening sequences center on Einstein rather than Picasso; and when Picasso eventually does enter, everything seems to lead up to a showdown between the two giants, a showdown that will send bystanders ducking for cover.
BUT: we are getting ahead of ourselves.
As we all know, Steve Martin is an accomplished actor and entertainer who is known for his offbeat style. He is also a successful screenwriter and banjo player — a very creative soul. This is Martin’s first full-length play, written in 1993.
Our only expectation, given Martin’s originality and high-energy style, was that the play would be similar to the work of Tom Stoppard or Samuel Beckett. Needless to say, our expectations were high, and we were not disappointed. The dialogue is witty, often absurdly funny. There are nonsensical discussions that actually make sense and eventually lead to a bit of profound thinking. And — surprise, surprise! — Martin manages to make some rather bold statements about our modern society and its values.
Jonathan McCarter directs this brilliant piece of verbal mayhem. The wit and levity of his “curtain speech” set the tone for the evening; we came to be entertained, and McCarter starts the process right away. He has coaxed a top-notch ensemble piece out of nine very talented actors who play the 11 characters that we meet and immediately love.
Line delivery is quick and natural, with a crispness that kept us hungering for more. Pacing is brisk, and transitions are smooth. The characters take turns “owning” the stage, and the combination of Martin’s writing and McCarter’s direction focuses our attention nicely (and, we must say, imperceptibly — there is never an unmotivated cross to center-stage).
The play is set in 1904, in a Paris bar called Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit), an actual bar that is still in business. Reputedly, Picasso frequented the establishment, so it is not surprising that the characters expect that he will show up this evening. It’s also not surprising that the first character that we meet is the owner, followed by one of his “regulars.”
Steve Martin cannot resist inserting a gag about the fact that Einstein is the third to appear onstage — we won’t spoil it with further elaboration. And this is just the first of several jokes that remind us that we are watching a play. (Much later, we hear one character tell another: “I’ll see you after the play.”)
Casting is superb! With a few of the characters, we found ourselves thinking: “I’ll bet that’s how Steve Martin himself would play this role.”
Jonathan King is a scream as Einstein. The term that comes to mind is “brilliant-yet-clueless.” We commend King’s ability to infuse so much energy into this type of character and to do so with such consistency. We cannot put our finger on why, but at times he seemed to be channeling actor John Cleese.
David Hudson is impressive as Picasso. This character also has a streak of cluelessness accompanying his brilliance. Imagine the mindset that goes along with seeing no problem in telling a woman (who feels she has been used used): “I meant every word I said that night; I just forgot who I said them to.” Hudson sustains his performance of this mindset for the duration of the show
Kimmy Florentino gives us three separate characters, each over-the-top (in a good way) in her own way. Mike Anderson is absurdly cute as Gaston, the regular customer who has entered “my new incarnation as an older man.” Lauren Bamford’s Germaine and Joey DeSena’s Freddy are also a delight as the barkeep and his helper.
In case we had the impression that there is nothing else as important as art and science, Sagot (Benoit Sabourin) and Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Will Harris) are on hand to demonstrate otherwise. And to keep the laughs going.
Finally: a visitor from the future (Tom Barbieri) makes sure that we know that there is more than even they can imagine. And, speaking of “how would Steve Martin himself play the role,” Barbieri gives us one “wild and crazy guy.”
Set designer Allison Dellinnger’s set is a well-laid-out rough replica of a bar room. “Rough,” we say, because there are details that intentionally remind us that this is a theater set rather than an actual bar room. And the set contain surprises that emerge when lighting changes.
Costumes (by producer/designer Rachel McKay) authentically suggest Paris in the 1900s, and they are definitely character-specific. Einstein’s is especially interesting, as that of “A visitor,” the last character to make an entrance.
Alyssa Petrone competently handled both lighting design and props. Special effects lighting was quite well done.
The Department of Picky-Picky, in retrospect, felt that the opening sequence was a bit slow to get off the ground. However, we also felt that this might have been intentional, because there is an adequate explanation in the script as to why things would get more interesting and more lively after the entrance of two geniuses. Watch for it.
We had been warned in the lobby that the piece runs 105 minutes, without intermission. Director Jonathan McCarter’s curtain speech suggests that it will be longer. No problem — we urge everyone who likes to laugh (and to think) to add one special item to their to-do list: spend an evening with Picasso at the Lapin Agile at NRACT.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article113141063.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 7th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/steve-martins-picasso-at-the-lapin-agile-at-nract-is-an-infinitely-hilarious-farce/.)
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at 8 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12, 3 p.m. Nov. 13, 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19, and 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $15 Sunday and $17 Friday and Saturday.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://nract.org/tickets.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/shows#/picasso-at-the-lapin-agile/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/538627986330600/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.facebook.com/events/538627986330600/permalink/541147232745342/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile (1993 Chicago and 1995 Off-Broadway comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2865/picasso-at-the-lapin-agile (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/3309 (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picasso_at_the_Lapin_Agile (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://www.davidacting.ca/resources/Picasso%20at%20the%20Lapin%20Agile.pdf (David Short).
Study Guide: https://www.denvercenter.org/docs/default-source/Show-Study-Guides/all-study-guides/picasso-at-the-lapin-agile.pdf (Denver Center Theatre Company).
Steve Martin (actor, musician, playwright, screenwriter, and author): http://www.stevemartin.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/6001 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/steve-martin-95761 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000188/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Martin (Wikipedia).
Picasso’s At the Lapin Agile (1905): http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1992.391 (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Au Lapin Agile Cabaret: http://www.au-lapin-agile.com/anglais/home.htm (official website).
Jonathan McCarter (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/jonathandmccarter (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.