A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Picasso at The Lapin Agile"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Larry Stark

"Picasso at The Lapin Agile"

by Steve Martin
Directed by James Barton

Set Design by D Schweppe
Lighting Design by Betsy Burr
Costume Design by Molly Trainer
Sound Design by John Chiaretta
Hair/Makeup Design by Jack Wickwire
Props Design by Jennifer Bosch
Produced by Tara Stepanian
Stage Manager Lynne Dinger

(in ACTUAL order of appearance)
Freddy.................John Greiner-Ferris
Gaston..................Robert Zawistowski
Albert Einstein.................Ari Vigoda
Germaine...................Milena Zuccotti
Suzanne...................Jennifer Kaufman
Sagot........................Michael Barbo
Pablo Picasso.............Michael DiMinico
Charles Dabernow Schmendiman...Bob Wiliams
The Countess..............Jennifer Kaufman
A Female Admirer..........Jennifer Kaufman
A Visitor.......................Grant Wood

by Larry Stark

It must have been heartbreaking for the brave, inventive and selfless cast of "Picasso at The Lapin Agile" to read Caroline Burlingham Ellis' review (reprinted above) in the local Wayland newspaper. But by the time a week later that I could see it, apparently everything she found wrong had been fixed, since I disagree strongly (even violently in some cases) with every one of her opinions --- with the exception of her praise for D. Schweppe's sublimely scruffy set. And apparently readers ignored her review, because a week later I was privileged to have a seat in an SRO house, and there is talk of extending the run. Were I you I would phone NOW for tickets, and be prepared to beg, plead and grovel for a chance to see for yourself which of the two of us saw the show aright.

I can remember Steve Martin saying on the TONIGHT Show "Some people come on here to admit to embarrassing things, so I'd like to confess tonight that sometimes I have this urge to wear MEN'S Underwear" and "Sometimes, I just like to ... Get Small!" but this play is not at all in the sphere of "Walk Like An Egyptian" at all. It's a light-hearted, witty dissertation on two geniuses whose work re-created our world. Martin's comic timing is everywhere, but instead of shallow comic caricatures everyone in the play, rather than being funny people, are people who often say funny things. I have seen this play done twice, each time surprisingly well. However, Director James Barton and his actors all had the guts to look under the giggly surface of it, and so for me this production is like both of those excellent other productions smashed together, then squared. In what is turning out a splendid year of magnificent theater it ranks in my mind in contention with half a dozen or more great shows already as a Best Production of 2004.

Much of that is due to a cast that can take their moments and mine them for truth, but then to simply get out of the way and watch when the spotlight shifts to someone else. For instance, Martin examines the fact that these geniuses are dynamically --- comfortably, willingly --- sexually attractive. At one point Jennifer Kaufmann as Suzanne in a French fit launches herself at the young Picasso (Michael DiMinico). Even as he continues a conversation, she devours his ear-lobe as lasciviously as any vampire would that of Vincent VanGogh --- and that's merely a prelude.

Later Milena Zuccotti as Germaine the waitress rather pointedly dismisses her lover Freddy the bartender (John Greiner-Ferris) to dally alone with the painter --- and then delivers a stinging critique of the self-assurance, the arrogance and the offhand self-centered cruelty of any genius's accepting women as his sexual right without ever noticing them as people. Love is not even a word in their vocabularies. This matter-of-factly stated speech could well be played for laughs --- but they are laughs of guilty recognition here. The truth may be stated wittily, but its bite is real.

But the boys get their moments here as well. Ari Vigoda's Einstein is primly, smugly confident that his little book on Relativity will remake physics forever --- though his applications of it to day-to-day activities sound a bit more like The Uncertainty Principle. Robert Zawistoski's old Gaston sagely confides himself an artist at appreciating women --- only because he never touches them. (A truth I, at 71, can appreciate!) Michael Barbo's art dealer Sagot insists what makes paintings valuable is really the Frames, and that no one in his right mind would hang a portrait of Christ in the Bedroom! The Great Schmendiman (Bob Williams) is a louder-than-life predictably self-absorbed "genius" of invention and salesmanship the future will blow away as so much chaff rather than any kernel of nourishing grain.

But its' for Freddy the landlord to hold the explosive elements of the play together. He's unobtrusively on stage readying his little bar for customers even before the play starts, and pours a bewilderingly varied set of colored liquids from a dozen different bottles (Let's hear it for props-mistress Jennifer Bosch!!), and engages his customers --- geniuses, mistresses, or merely regulars --- in amiable, interesting conversation on every hand.

Eventually there is "A Visitor" (Grant Wood) --- a preening poser playing air-guitar and wearing blue suede sh.. er, boots, claiming to be touring time and laying claim to the landmark creation of The New Music of the 20th Century. Everything, someone says, comes in threes, doesn't it?

Steve Martin's trio of geniuses did indeed remake the century, and each can be forgiven the chutzpa of admitting that is exactly what they intend, in their youth of 1904, to do.
I don't claim that Steve Martin does the same here for the art of theater, nor that James Barton did it for the art of directing.
But in my book, this Vokes Players production came damn close....


"Picasso in The Lapin Agile" (11 - 27 March)
Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre, Route 20, WAYLAND

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