BWW Reviews: PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at SSR Has Moments but Lacks Cohesion
When any of Steve Martin's plays such as "Picasso at the Lapin Agile", currently playing at Second Story Rep, is done well it can be a riotous evening of surreal fun. But when it misses the mark it's still funny but lacks that certain spark of genius that Martin is known for. And while SSR's production doesn't completely miss the mark it's more sparkly moments are overshadowed by its somewhat scattered and tepid ones.
When we are first introduced to the slightly off world of the Lapin Agile we hear of Picasso (Matt Fulbright) but don't see him yet. He's just talked about by the denizens of the bar, Freddy (Dan Davidson) the barkeep, Germaine (Adrienne Maclain) the waitress, and Suzanne (Brittany Cox) the hopeful paramour. But eventually he does come swaggering in just as he is being toasted by none other than Albert Einstein (Nick Anderson). And what ensues is a very Martin-esque battle of wills and wits between two geniuses of the 20th century with full knowledge that they are in a play and who are both hopeful of a third genius coming through the door any minute.
Directed by Dan Posluns the show lacks the manic drive and pace it needs as well as the complexity from some of the characters. Also much of the cast insisted on punctuating the jokes rather than letting them happen which was reminiscent of an 80's sitcom waiting for a laugh track that never came. And that's not what Martin's work needs, it needs people who are completely comfortable in this surreal world, knowing at any time they could pop out of it and back in, and allowing the jokes to fall for the audience to pick up rather than being handed to us. Not every joke lands like that, there were a few wonderful moments and guffaws to be had but the piece can have so much more.
Much of the cast has their moments to shine. Fullbright manages a rich and layered character with tons of presence and, when needed, palpable sex appeal. As does Maclain who begins the show as a foil or object to be admired but then turns the tables on Picasso in a wonderfully juicy monologue. Davidson also has a more background role but still manages to keep his character engaging and full with his slight double takes and a brilliant bit of OCD stage business before the show starts. And Cox takes on her multiple roles well and really shines as the well matched love interest for Einstein. Unfortunately Einstein is one of the ones who fall into that trap of handing us the jokes making his performance come across as a bit forced and one note. He's very likable on stage but needs more levels. As does the mysterious intruder Schmendiman (Chazz Kaskes) who just kind of yelled his brief scene. Both actors could learn that louder isn't always funnier.
The production is not a dud by any stretch of the imagination but it just lacks that certain something that could make it great. And without that greatness Martin's script comes across as a bunch of one liners instead of a cohesive surreal romp.
As you may have seen in my previous reviews, with the new year comes new ideas and so I've implemented a three letter rating system for my reviews. They range from good to bad with WOW (A can't miss), YAY (Too damn good), MEH+ (Good, with some great things going for it), MEH (Just OK), NAH (You can miss this one) and WTF (I think you can figure out my complex code there). And so for "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" I give it a MEH.
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" performs at Second Story Rep through February 1st. For tickets or information contact the Second Story Rep box office at 425-881-6777 or visit them online at www.secondstoryrep.org.