BWW Review: 'Picasso at the Lapin Agile' at The Old Globe
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" has a plot that sounds a bit like discussion questions that you get in college classes, from drunken people from parties, or pretentious coffee shop hipsters. You know the ones..."What if two geniuses met before they hit their stride?"
In the nimble hands of Martin, this becomes an interesting discussion on the concept of genius, like recognizing like, and the art in science and vice versa. The idea of genius, just before it is realized is an intriguing one.
Set in Paris in 1904, a collection of people find themselves at the Lapin Agile, a bar that welcomes struggling genius', regardless of their discipline. Artists, scientists, inventors - everyone is welcome to quench their thirst for drinks and conversation. It is here where the fictional meeting of the minds between Picasso (Philippe Bowgen) and Albert Einstein (Justin Long) is placed. Both are young, and yet to truly break out and make history, they find themselves debating everything from personal relationships to the future of the 20th century with each other and the other patrons.
Both are confident, in the way that genius must be, that they are on the verge of something amazing. Unsure of exactly what it will be, they are confident they will add their names to major cornerstones in this newly dawning century. Yet, as cocky young men assured of their own genius, they also challenge each other to a duel of their talents.
Bowgen's Picasso is smart, sexy, sober about himself, and confident in his craft (except if you bring up Matisse). He is a black belt womanizer, and even when he sees a beautiful woman in the bar and doesn't remember her even after they've become intimately acquainted only a few days before.
Long's Einstein is very high energy, and makes the character so entertaining and energetic one almost hopes this is what Einstein was actually like in life. He gets his first big laugh after entering the bar by muttering, "I'm not myself today," and then mussing his hair as wildly as possible. Yet he also is earnestly serious when he says "I never thought the 20th century would be handed to me so casually" when handed a small pencil sketch by Pablo Picasso.
The rest of impressive and recognizable cast are just as strong with some excellent performances. Donald Faison (who audiences know as Turk from "Scrubs") is Freddy, the owner of the bar, and is both as friendly, baffled, and as suspicious as a bartender can be. When he discovers that Einstein has a mastery of math, he tosses off several hilariously complicated math problems (and as a bonus it helps Freddy with his accounts).
Hal Linden is a delight as Gaston the mature bar patron, Ron Orbach is the charming) affected art dealer, Liza Lapira is Picasso's pouty former and possible future conquest, and Luna Vélez brings the some real life insight to the table as the bar server Germaine. As Schmendiman, Marcel Spears is all high comic energy as a man impressed with him for inventing a brittle, rigid building material (only to be used in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo).
The play finds its central drive as Picasso and Einstein find a common bond in the realization that they hold the secrets to a new future. As they bask in their optimism (and mutual brilliance) they wonder who could possibly be the third part of this genius triangle of the new century. This is where Martin gleefully pokes a hole in the inflating egos and building motion of the play.
The third act introduces the Visitor, a man with a southern accent and a pair of blue suede shoes. While the point is to contemplate this character as the third possible genius that they were previously pondering, it feels like an out of the blue turn for the show. A little like Martin didn't know how to end the play and started throwing whatever he could into the mix.
Picasso and Einstein in a boozy, boisterous meeting is a great comic idea, and " at the Lapin Agile" is just long enough to not feel like a fully realized idea but more than a padded sketch. With a top notch cast, this play makes the most out of Martin's smart writing, filled with puns, anachronistic predications, passion, witty dialogue, and mild mockery. Like a lot of his other works, it is the mix of highbrow sophistication, absurdity, and some sophomoric jokes that makes this feel like a serious thing that doesn't want you to take it too seriously.
Overall, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is an interesting consideration into genius, insight, and that the creative process for any imaginative endeavor; be it art, physics, or music, is truly the same path of discovery.
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is playing at The Old Globe through March 12th. For tickets and show times go to www.theoldglobe.org
Photo Credit: Jim Cox