BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

Comedian Steve Martin has been churning out hilarious comedy material since the seventies. I remember watching him for the first time on The Tonight Show doing the card trick "King of Hearts, come down and dance." His oddball but cerebral writing continues to bring a string of successes. "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is one of them. Birmingham Festival Theatre offered this hilarious play recently. The story is a fictional look back in time, asking what if Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein met in a bar? This sounds like a set up to a really bad joke Grandpa would tell during his meetings at the Moose Lodge. Leave it to Steve Martin to craft this very funny and intriguing comedy. The play opens in the year 1904 at sleepy little bistro in the sleepy little French countryside. The large amounts of wine and country charm fill the empty Bar. Set and lighting designer Mindy Wester Egan made a welcoming set with a real feeling of a place you would actually want to go to get a pint.

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

The married couple Freddy (Brad Riegel) and Germaine (Carron Clark) are getting ready to open their bar like its any ordinary day. They have a fun contrast to their characters that work great on stage. He's a little bit country and she's a little bit rock and roll. The two have a pure chemistry on stage that sells the quirky relationship. They break the fourth wall to chat as if the audience were patrons. This is tricky maneuver to pull off. Director Mel Christian delivered the perfect amount of laughs without going too far. The TV show "Cheers" proved that every neighborhood bar needs it Norm, and this one is named Gaston (Ron Dauphinee). He is a kindly comical grandfather figure with much to say in-between his trips to the restroom. The three quip back and forth, giving thoughts on the artist /sensation who's paintings are becoming the rage. The play then enters into a well-paced cadence introducing a series of new characters arriving at the bar, each with a unique agenda. It has the fun feel of the movie "Clue."

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

Enter flirty and passionate Suzanne (Amyna Price), a previous lover and admirer of both Pablo Picasso's art and touch. She arrives unexpected with hopes to get another "session" in before the evening is done. Soon after her arrival in bounds a 20-something patent clerk, Albert Einstein (Jonathan Sweatt) with much trepidation and fervor. He is a awaiting the arrival of his forthcoming date for the evening. His oddness and mathematical skills are gradually tossed into conversation causing many insights to his future discoveries. One funny run was when Freddy tosses off complicated math problems from his bar invoice. Einstein comically responds quickly as if he was a calculator. Enter Sagot (Bates Redwine), Picasso's art broker. He is an entertaining, head turning personality with a real love of Picasso's work. Redwine does not hit the brakes at all in the role and is hilarious.

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILEPablo Picasso (Don Cano) makes a grand entrance with thunderous ego and machismo. He of course notices the fair Suzanne. Showing much interest, he flows to her with well-rehearsed charm, completely forgetting who she is and what they had done. Enraged she calls him out for his meaningless words of admiration and love. He replies, "I meant every word I said that night; I just forgot who I said them to." The show progresses with Picasso and Einstein finding tension between them. They launch into competing their mastery of intellectual and artistic passions. More characters are introduced and absurdity peaks with the arrival of a Visitor bringing inspiration for the competing geniuses. There are several layers of Steve Martin's smart and thought provoking comedy in the exchanges between all of the characters. Ridiculousness becomes the norm as the competition and story builds. Right after Einstein's first entrance, Freddy gets irritated for Einstein is supposed to be fourth character introduced in order of appearance according to the program. To prove his point Freddy asks and borrows a program from a surprised lady in the front row to show him.

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

Mel Christian led a tight and very thought provoking performance. The comedy was well paced and balanced with an impressive ensemble that worked well on stage. The play was cast with energetic actors with much enthusiasm. Cano bounds into the role of Picasso with an intensity of a misunderstood genius. Sweatt gives a delivery with an equal intensity but with an element of calculating where to apply it. The ensemble was padded with some very worthy of note performances. The energetic huckster Charles Dabernow Schmendiman was brought to life in a booming performance by Terrance Jackson. His quick paced, high energy and comical delivery sold this role with a gleeful reaction from the audience. The Countess was played with an upper crust flair by Bliss Bailey. Amy Nicole Singleton gave intense passion and fire to the Female Admirer. Last but not least, actor Zach Buse delivered the mysterious role of the Visitor with a hunk, a hunka burning love. His performance perfectly fused Nashville with nonsense, blue swede shoes and all.

BWW Review: Birmingham Festival Theatre got you Laughing when Einstein meets PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is a play with a playful heart and much optimism. The creative elements led to many unexpected surprises. I look forward to catching this play again wherever it surfaces. I am jaded though. The production at Birmingham Festival Theatre was a real hard act to follow

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile"

By Steve Martin

Directed by Mel Christian

Freddy - Brad Riegel

Gaston - Ron Dauphniee

Germaine - Carron Clark

Albert Einstein - Jonathan Sweatt

Suzanne - Amyna Price

Sagot - Bates Redwine

Pablo Picasso - Don Cano

Charles Dabernow Schmendiman - Terrance Jackson

The Countess - Bliss Bailey

A Female Admirer - Amy Nicole Singleton

A Visitor - Zach Buse

Birmingham Festival Theatre

1901 1/2 11th Ave S

Birmingham, AL 35205

For more information: (205) 933-2383 or www.bftonline.org

Photo Credit: Steven Ross



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