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Review: STEVE MARTIN'S ABSURDIST PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE TAKES CENTER STAGE at JOBSITE THEATER

Review: STEVE MARTIN'S ABSURDIST PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE TAKES CENTER STAGE at JOBSITE THEATER

Perfect for the Jobsite arena this zany comedy puts all the pieces together, but at the same time, comes together much like a masterpiece of Picasso.

"The mind is like a mirror, if you don't use it, it loses the power to reflect."

Anyone who has any grasp on popular culture knows of, or has heard of Comedic Actor Steve Martin. With such notable roles in films such as Father of the Bride, The Jerk, Cheaper by the Dozen, and It's Complicated, Steve Martin has graced both small and large format screens with some of the finest actors/actresses of our time. Outside of Film, Steve Martin plays bluegrass music, and as a writer has written several plays, and co- wrote Bright Star with Edie Bricknell.

Jobsite Theater, the resident theatre company of Tampa's Straz Center is no stranger to producing the works of the great Steve Martin. Having over the past several years presented productions of The Underpants, Meteor Shower, and Picasso at the Lapine Agile. The later in which we will be discussing here.

Steve Martin's work is absurdist at best, often resembling ideas of Brecht, and even Beckett in some ways. Now I will say first and foremost, that absurdist theatre is not for everyone, however, if you know a little about what you are seeing, then you have a clear road map in front of you presenting a great evening out of the house.

In the past, I have found Mr. Martin's work sort of messy, and all over the place. Trying to achieve more with a quick laugh than providing any actual depth to its characters. So much so, that in past productions of his work, I have seen performer's completely drop out of character just for sake of getting offstage. Imagine if you will being in the middle of a conversation with someone, only for them to walk out of the room mid-thought. As much as I tried to bury the thought of this, I was hesitant walking in on Friday evening. For this was one Steve Martin piece I had ever yet to see live. I have read the show several times in the past but never got a chance to experience it in the live forum. The company of Jobsite Theatre put all doubts to rest with this no holds barred, balls-to-the- wall performance, that I am still unsure about even as I sit here writing this.

This is the perfect show to be presented by Jobsite.

Jobsite consistently does one thing right, they make the weird, even weirder and tackle the material in such a way I find myself pondering over it days later.

Central to our story here, we meet Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso after a happenstance of a meeting at a local bar called the Lapin Agile, or "Nimble Rabbit," for those who speak french. The setting is the Lapin Agile in 1904, on the eve of both men proclaiming ideas of almost grandeur stature. Einstein (young when we see him,) will publish his Theory of Relativity, and Picasso will paint the ever famous Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The share a heated debate between what makes genius and what proves talent, while interacting with the other bar patrons.

The other patrons that stumble upon the Lapin Agile are Freddy (The Bartender), and Gaston who seemingly has a prostate problem and cant decide if he should sit and drink or visit the latrine(on more than one occasion.) Others include Germaine (the waitress), Suzanne (a young girl head over heels for Picasso,) Sagot (Picasso's Art Dealer,) The Countess ( A woman infatuated with Einstein,) Charles Dabernow Schmendiman ( An inventor with zany ideas but not much else,) a Female Admirer (woman in love with Schmendiman,) and the Visitor (much like a famous musician of the past). With all of the zany characters on stage there is much to unpack here.

Director Kari Goetz does a wonderful job of assembling a fine company of performers that take Martin's script by the jugular and never let go. From top to bottom each individual character has something to say, though I may not always agree with the choices made, each of the members of this company provide an exceptional gravitas and almost weight to the absurd nature of the comedy.

Starting with Albert Einstein, Blake Smallen does wonderful work here. At times I was unsure of Einstein's arc in the story. Blake does a great job of bringing young Einstein to life. We all know Einstein for the zany pictures strung throughout Science classrooms growing up of his hair all wild and his tongue stuck out. Blake plays a more sleek, somewhat reserved Einstein. For me, Einstein is almost too put together here which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. It almost becomes a battle of wills, a pissing match of sorts, over who can outdo, outsmart, and outperform the other. Blake should be proud of their work here. Einstein comes across very layered here, leaving me wanting to know more.

As Picasso the great Robert "Spence" Gabriel is enigmatic. From his body movements from the top of his head to his toes, he lives and breathes every facet of this character. He makes the womanizing side of Picasso almost sensual in a way. Imagine if E.L. James had written a version of Fifty Shades of Grey from Picasso's perspective, would it be called Paint? One of the strongest turns I have seen from this young performer, and one I will remember for some time.

The exceptional Ned Averill Snell is on a whole other level here as Gaston. He's waging his own personal war between the bottom of the bottle and the bottom of the toilet, and each moment to moment is exceptional. Leaving me in stitches after blurting out "When a Man Loves a Woman," almost as if he passed gas in a crowded store. Ned takes every chance he gets to make the character his own, and here is no exception. There is a reason I say, cast Ned Averill Snell and you will pack the house, he is that damn good.

As Freddy, Brian Shea is exceptional. I have seen Mr. Shea several times over the years and each time he just gets better and better. This for me is on par with his turn as the Pastor in Hand to God. A stunning turn from an incredible performer.

As multiple characters Suzanne, The Countess, and Female Admirer, Sydney Reddish is a great addition to the world in which these characters reside. To play 3 distinctly different charac ters a matter of minutes a part from each other, is a feat all its own and Sydney should be proud of her work here.

Danny Mora makes one heck of an entrance as Sagot. Donning a black and red cape, it was as if a Matador met the Three Musketeers. He has great comedic moments and it is a wonderful addition to the company.

As Charles Dabernow Schmendiman, Jonelle Meyer is wonderful here. Though very brief her character fills the room with wit and sass, and enough comedic timing that this character could have its own show.

Jada Canty as Germaine was all business and took no prisoners. She helped move the plot along and was an interesting addition, though her character fell flat for me. I also could not help but wonder why she wouldn't do something to keep the hair out of her eyes. For me, this character seemed the most out of place in the story.

Finally rounding out this cast of zany characters in the Visitor, played by Donovan Whitney. Coming in bursting at the seams like lightning, he captivated the room. Also donning an accent and many moves of a certain famous musician, I want to "Thank him, very much," for his outstanding performance.

As I said previously, Kari Goetz and the team assembled a top-notch cast that takes the story of Steve Martin's first-ever play and made it all their own.

Technically sound, the set design by Brian Smallheer was functional and fit the world of the show. Lighting Design by Jo Averill Snell helped propel the plot forward in unique and interesting ways, especially with all the dynamic entrances of each character. Anne Acosta's costumes fit the world of the show beautifully and added another layer to the exceptional presentation which we have come to synonymize with Jobsite.

Hitting the mark in all the right notes and telling Steve Martin's story in a way that's all t heir own, this is Jobsite, as it should be done. I will say the magnitude of the Picasso masterpiece making its debut at the end of the show was slightly disappointing, when we were expecting a magnitude of gigantic proportions, but they did best with the space allowed. This show is an absurd mental mind f**k that I'm still unpacking days later.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile is onstage in the Shimberg Playhouse through October 9th, although performances could potentially be extended due to a pause in programming. Be sure to check the Straz Center's website at strazcenter.org for more information.

PHOTO CREDIT: PRITCHARD PHOTOGRAPHY



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