BWW Reviews: PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE in New Haven
Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile is the Long Wharf Theatre's holiday gift to theatre lovers. Martin's 1993 play is simply brilliant and brilliantly simple in its plot. It is October 8, 1904, and all the characters are hopeful that this new era will blot out the negativity of the past. Albert Einstein (played by Robbie Tann) and Pablo Picasso (Grayson DeJesus) are on the verge of their breakthroughs in science and art. They interact with the owner Freddy (Tom Riis Farrell), his mistress Germaine (Penny Balfour), the newly elderly patron Gaston (David Margulies), Picasso's art dealer Sagot (Ronald Guttman), inventor Charles Dabernow Shmendiman (Jonathan Spivey), Picasso's devotee Suzanne (Dina Shihabi, who reappears the Countess and as Schmediman's admirer), and a visitor from the future who bears an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley (Jake Silbermann). Sounds wild and crazy, but it works. This is the second time I've seen this play, which remains fresh as an intellectual romp through the debate of art versus science and how they affect everyone. This cast is definitive and this production is first-rate.
Einstein and Picasso deliberate the values of talent and genius and, at one point, have a duel with pencil and paper. "I never thought the 20th century would be handed to me so nonchalantly," says Einstein, "scratched out in pencil on a piece of paper." They looked at each other's piece of paper. "That's just a formula," scoffs Picasso, to which Einstein responds nonchalantly, "So is yours." And barkeeper Freddy observes, "In the twentieth century, no political movement will be as glorious as the movement of the line across the paper, the note across the staff, or the idea across the mind."
And glorious is Martin's writing, with gems and barbs positioned with precision throughout the play. When Picasso is told by his art dealer that Matisse is self-deprecating, he replies, "Good. It saves me the trouble." Art dealer Sagot adds that the two subjects in paintings that never sell are Jesus Christ and sheep, while standing near a wall on which is hung a large picture of five huge sheep. The characters ponder the future, and genius or not, come up with speculations that are eerily prescient beyond the 20th century. "Smoking in restaurants will be banned," prophesizes Germaine. "Hiroshima will be modernized" and "cruelty will be perfected." When Gaston announces that they need a third genius that evening at the Lapin Agile to complete the trifecta of masterminds, Schmendiman bursts into the scene, full of bravado, as he claims that his new compound will change the way buildings are made, but notes that it can only be used in California and Krakatoa, East of Java. And then the future comes to the Lapin Agile in the form of an unnamed country boy with blue suede shoes.
The cast could not have been better. Every player is superb individually and collectively. Every character has his her moment to shine and every performer plays it to perfection. Gordon Edelstein's direction is flawless. Michael Yeargan's set design of the Lapin Agile is plausible and inviting, and Donald Holder's lighting design is exceptional. Jess Goldstein's women's costumes are stunning, and Picasso's attire perfectly suited the artist's personality. No word was lost in David Burdrie's excellent sound design. Claire Zoghb's cover art is a collectible, capturing the high-brow art and intellectual science with popular culture against the background of the universe.
John F. Kennedy once said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." It's too bad he didn't live long enough to meet Steve Martin or see Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
No matter how busy you are during the holiday season, make the time to see Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Long Wharf Theatre. The show, which runs 85 minutes and without an interruption, is scheduled through December 21. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org. When you come up for air, check out the new timeline added to the Long Wharf Theatre's website as the theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary.