BWW Reviews: Counter-Productions Presents a Perfectly Delightful PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE
Lately, it seems as if there's been something in the air in the Rhode Island theatre scene. Or maybe something in the drinking water. Something rather dark. There are a number of plays that have just ended, are running currently, or are about to open, which deal with very dark, disturbing or depressing themes and images. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, of course. And no rhyme or reason for why it's so pervasive right now, it's mere coincidence. Still, there's a lot of dark out there right now and it's nice to mix things up with lighter fare, perhaps something along the lines of the wonderful, delightful production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, presented by Counter-Productions Theatre Company, which just closed at Ninety-Five Empire.
Written by Steve Martin, Picasso at the Lapin Agile is the perfect play for an intimate black box theatre such as the one found at 95 Empire Street. Set in a bar in Paris in 1904, the story imagines a chance meeting between a young Albert Einstein and a young Pablo Picasso. Just on the cusp of their great works of genius, the two men banter and philosophize, trading theories about art, science and creation. Over a few drinks, some storytelling, and a joke or two, they herald the beginning of the 20th century, raising their glass to the innovations and creative brilliance yet to come.
For this production, Director Rufus Qristofer Teixeira kept things appropriately light and breezy. There's a warm feel to the production, an approachability to the proceedings, making the bar feel like a place the audience wants to spend an hour or two. The pace is kept lively, with the play clocking in at around ninety minutes. Not always feeling completely natural, some of the blocking seemed contrived, with a little too much standing and sitting with little motivation other than "the director told me to."
Teixeira assembled a fine cast of actors for the production, all of whom take full advantage of their individual moments to shine. As Einstein, Steven Zailskas is perfectly quirky and eccentric, just the kind of slightly off-kilter young genius you might imagine Einstein really was. He handles the German accent just as well as he does the speeches about relativity and scientific theories. As the other half of this genius tag-team, Jaff Ararat is wonderful as Picasso. Ararat brings a palpable intensity and charisma to the role, creating a Picasso who is deeply brooding and insightful. He skillfully brings to life what one might believe to be Picasso's true enigmatic and passionate nature.
The radiant Valerie Remillard Myette is also wonderful as Germaine, a waitress and the girlfriend of the bar's owner. Myette delivers a performance that is self-assured, confident and energized. Her Germaine is the standout among the female cast, a perfect blend of strength and sarcasm. As her boyfriend, Freddy, Ted Clement is also fabulous. He is something akin to the play's center, the rock that holds it all together, and he handles that role very well. His Freddy is at times hilarious and always lovable.
Colleen Farrell does double duty as Suzanne, a young woman who is enamored with Picasso, and The Countess, a woman who is loved by Einstein. When she first appears, as Suzanne, Farrell seemed a bit shaky and nervous. After she settled into the performance, she was as delightful to behold as the rest of the ensemble, even if her accent was a little harder to understand at times. A charismatic actress, Farrell's moments with the equally charismatic Picasso were among the show's best. As Picasso's art dealer, Erin Archer had a smaller role but was no less charming. She had some great comic moments and achieved them perfectly. In a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" role, Audrey Lavin Crawley was also very funny.
There were a few other ensemble members, each of whom deserves a quick mention. Stevie Smith was hilarious as Schmendiman, a young man who has an invention of his own and seeks fame on the level of Picasso and Einstein. Equally entertaining was Geoff Leatham as Gaston, a man who must use the restroom almost as often as he talks about woman and sex, which is a lot. Finally, Stuart Wilson played a mysterious visitor who arrives towards the play's end. It would ruin the surprise to say more, but Wilson gives a very funny performance in a role that is rather odd.
The play does that, it gets a little odd, towards the end. Martin, it can only be assumed, intended it that way. It does feel a little like he ran out of cool things for Einstein and Picasso to talk about, so he injected this strange visitor into the mix to shake things up. Still, for most of the play, there are fascinating discussion which bring up many intriguing questions. Questions about art and science and how the two may actually be much more alike than they are different. And questions about what the past can teach about the future and what, exactly, the future holds for us all. While this particular show ended its run on April 19th, there's little doubt that the future for Counter-Productions Theatre Company will include many more excellent productions like this one.
Although Picasso at the Lapin Agile has concluded it's run, you can keep up with Counter-Productions Theatre Company at their website, www.cptcri.com.
Pictured (L to R): Steven Zailskas and Geoff Leatham.