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BWW Reviews: PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE at Keegan Theatre

Cozy up to the bar and enjoy a chat with Albert Einstein or a drink with Pablo Picasso.

Keegan Theatre's PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE by Steve Martin is a wonderfully absurdist comedy that considers the potential influence of science and art in the century to come. It is 1904 when we meet young Einstein and Picasso, both unproven but bursting with confidence and vast potential. Martin's proven script gives the actors a chance to relax and have some fun knowing that they have a critical safety net: their text was crafted by one of comedy's modern masters.

Earlier generations of course had their own masters like Picasso and Einstein, each a genius in his field. But in fin de siècle Paris Einstein has yet to publish his "Special Theory of Relativity" and Picasso was still a few years away from Cubism and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. But in the Parisian watering hole, the Lapin Agile, the two, armed with just pencil and paper, duel to create "the most beautiful thing" - Einstein a formula, Picasso a drawing. Will art or science have greater influence in the 20th century?

But the 20th century brought us much more. What about the great spirit of invention and the chutzpah to sell it? We see that played out in vivid detail with the arrival of Schmendiman. Surely you've heard of him and his great invention - an inflexible and brittle building material made of asbestos, kitten paws and radium?

These three and an array of other characters dream, complain, plan and banter at the Lapin Agile. At the helm is owner and bartender Freddy; Brandon McCoy has the needed rapport and rhythm. His partner in the bar and in life, Germaine (Allison Leigh Corke), is observant, smart and spunky. Keegan Company Member Kevin Adams plays Gaston, a wry and experienced Agile Lapin regular. Things get stirred up when Suzanne (Amanda Forstrom) enters the bar looking for Picasso; she relates that the two have been lovers and she has a drawing as a remembrance. The aforementioned Charles Dabernow Schmendiman played by Michael Innocenti is a wacky highlight of energy and nerve. Art dealer Sagot (Lee Liebeskind), Countess (Sheri S. Herren), Visitor (Mike Kozemchak) and bar patrons (Katie Rosenberg and Caroline Leffert) complete the cast ably directed by Chris Stezin.

But it is Picasso and Einstein who carry the show. Matthew J. Keenan's Picasso is all sexual energy and confident bravado. Bradley Foster Smith's Einstein is quieter and quirkier with a gentle wide-eyed wonder. A quick movement of tongue extended and hair tasseled captures the classic Einstein pose. In one memorable scene he good-naturedly serves as human calculator to figure out the bar finances, rapid-fire and accurately.

The company would have been well-served, though, with a dialect coach to clarify the accents of Spaniard Picasso and German Einstein meeting in the Parisian bar. Too often the spoken cadence would veer toward Steve Martin's SNL Wild and Crazy Guy.

Matthew J. Keenan's set design with its checkerboard linoleum and comfy nooks evokes turn-of-the-century Paris. The set dressing and properties design of Carol H. Baker compliments Keenan's work. Patrick Lord's projection designs are a critical element to advance the story and augment the wonder of art and space that Picasso and Einstein master.

An amiable evening with PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE also affords an opportunity to admire the beautifully and recently renovated theater on Church Street in the heart of Dupont Circle.

Runtime: 1:15 with no intermission. Please note there is no late seating.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE by Steve Martin runs through February 13 with shows Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. The production is at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. For tickets or specific performance times, please visit Keegan Theatre's website here.

Photos by C. Stanley Photography. At top: Bradley Foster Smith and Amanda Forstrom; center: Matthew J. Keenan; bottom: Bradley Foster Smith.

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From This Author Pamela Roberts