Picasso at the Lapin Aglie
January 13 to 28, 2012
So Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar. No really, it’s not a joke. In Picasso at the Lapin Agile these characters actually do walk into the same bar. On the other hand it is a joke – the play I mean. Not a joke really, more of a lengthy Saturday Night Live skit that while smart and funny in places goes on just a bit too long and runs off the rails in places.
I use the SNL reference here intentionally because Picasso at the Lapin Agile is written by one of the show’s most well-known and well-rounded past cast mates – Steve Martin. Martin, who is known for his banjo playing, novel-writing, screenwriting and art collecting in addition to his comedy, penned this, his first full length play in 1993. It had a successful run in both Los Angeles and New York and now is brought to us by Morpheus Theatre here in Calgary.
The one-act play features Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso who meet at a bar called the Lapin Agile (Nimble Rabbit). The date is 1904and both men believe they are close to unveiling work that will change the century. Einstein is on the verge of publishing his ground-breaking theory of relativity and Picasso is working up to his seminal painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The two meet and argue about which is the more beautiful, meaningful and significant talent – that of the hand or of the mind, that of the scientist or of the artist. Heady stuff for sure – but in Martin’s hands, the discussion is peppered with humour that ranges from the intellectually witty (Einstein discussing how a baker would and should bake pies in the shape of the letters of the alphabet) to slapstick-ish (Picasso clutching his heart in mock pain and jealousy every time someone mentions Matisse).
The two are joined in the bar by a host of other characters that each get their chance to zing a few lines and deliver Martin’s philosophy on everything from what drives a womanizer to what inventions the 20th century will bring to what type of books get published to the sleazy world of art dealers. Martin’s insightful, sarcastic and ironic views are given full airing on stage and they work best when the zany screwball treatment is toned down and the jokes are allowed to breathe on their own. Best at this is Greg Spielman as Gaston, a French elderly barfly with an eye for the ladies and a bladder that needs tending to every 15 minutes or so. Apart from his trips to the bathroom, Spielman’s character is on stage throughout the play and his understated stabs at the humour were very welcome in a cast where extreme mad-cappery and shouting was often employed to emphasize the funny and overcome some hollow acting. Lonni Olson at Sagot, Picasso’s art dealer, also hits the right balance between larger than life unctuous character and well-timed thoughtful delivery.
Unfortunately the other actors don’t fare as well. Peter Dorrius’ Einstein feels far too naively gee-whiz to be believable as a master scientific mind and as Picasso Brad Simon’s usage of bombast and bravado makes for some great shouting but not great acting moments. The rest of the cast falls somewhere between fine to amateurish with each one having occasional bright moments that quickly get brought down again by bouts of wooden acting and flubbed lines.
To be fair, Martin’s script doesn’t exactly allow for great character development. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is far more concerned with spouting off sarcasm and bombarding us with gags than it is with giving actors great roles to play. But as Saturday Night Live has shown us, sketch comedy is only really funny if the acting is good. And in this case, there is no way to change the channel.
For the guys – Zany with a healthy dash of smarts would have been a great bet – but instead it feels over-acted and under-funny. SKIP IT
For the girls – See above. SKIP IT
For the occasional theatre goer – Way too much going on with no real plot, this is will feel long and rambling. SKIP IT
For the theatre junkie – A better cast might have made this a smartly interesting light-hearted diversion, but unfortunately the cast doesn’t live up to the script. SKIP IT.