Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Picasso at the Lapin Agile"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Picasso at The Lapin Agile"

by Steve Martin
Directed by Margaret Van Sant

Set Design by Steve Bakunas
Costumes Designed by Edward Baker
Lighting Design by Margaret Stevens
Choreographer Bart Murell
Rehearsal Stage Manager/Props Sue Bowlin

Freddy.......................................Alex Juchniewich
Gaston.............................................Patrick Falco
Germaine..............................................Kris Dean
Albert Einstein...............................Frank Mitchell
Suzanne/Countess/Admirer........Elizabeth Murray
Sagot..................................................Nick Harris
Pablo Picasso..................................Steve Bakunas
Charles Dabernow Schmendiman...Tim McCarthy
A Visitor.....................................Norm Lavalette*
(* replacing ailing John Hayes)


The Provincetown Theatre Company cast knows Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" cold. They are so comfortable with the repartee and by-play, and with each other, that they could survive a last-minute cast substitution so smoothly no one knew until it was announced after final curtain. As each one takes a moment as center of attention, everyone else on the wide, shallow stage is intently focused as if hearing this for the very first time. The cast and director Margaret Van Sant make this romp a clear winner that should be in Boston's North End for a long time to come.

Steve Martin's script plays with people and with time. The setting is 1904, the century is young, and so are Picasso and Einstein --- passion and intellect --- who cross paths while pursuing, or is it being pursued by, women. The dialogue plays games with relativity-theory, art-criticism and sex-roles that flip between the sensibilities of then and now. Less than a play but more than a comedy-sketch, it manages throughout to make ideas fun.

There is no pretense here that the players are "being" historical people as they were. Steve Bakunas' Picasso is a young stud self-importantly convinced of his own greatness and already painting in his mind canvasses that are no longer blue. (A moment when he silently stares at a large bland landscape on the wall as though about to demolish it with his pencil says more than words about this.) Frank Mitchell's Einstein is already blandly bandying the uncertainty principle about in bombastic applications to everyday life. And Tim Mcarthy manages to combine the humility of Frank Lloyd Wright with the selflessness of Bill Gates as the intrepid inventor Charles Dabernow Schmendiman. (Insert wry emoticon of your choice here.)

But the non-historical characters here are no less vivid. Nick Harris plays a dogmatic art-dealer ("Pictures of Christ or of sheep don't sell.") and Patrick Falco a "newly old" connoisseur of women who knows them intimately only because he doesn't touch. The bar is run by Alex Juchniewich's Freddy, who punctuates the festivities periodically with ringing bons mots. His waitress/lover Germaine (Kris Dean) gets a long monolog explaining to Picasso in bluntly succinct terms the different approaches to sex of the male and female egos. And Elizabeth Murray gets to play every one of the smitten, genius-chasing ladies of Paris. Her shocked experience of Picasso's egocentrism, and her reappearance in zebra-skin gloves are equally memorable. (Edward Baker's costumes are deliciously apt fantasies in every loving detail.)

But it's not any individual that stands out here, it's the ensemble itself that stars. Director Van Sant has to deal with a stage that spreads four playing-spots from left to right the width of the room, before spectators sitting at tables, and with Margaret Steven's simple full-up lighting. In such a space, it's the interactions between characters and the full attention of people without lines that keeps the action flowing smoothly from person to person and place to place, and from idea to idea. This is an excellently shaped hour and a half of fun.

You will notice I have not mentioned the visitor, whose entrance provides the fourth-dimensional climax of the show. This is not because Norm LaValette of Improv Asylum, who substituted for the suddenly ill John Hayes, was in any way inadequate. It is simply that this role must burst on the audience as a total surprise. It did so, delightfully, for me, and I strongly urge everyone to go over to 216 Hanover Street and experience that surprise for themselves.

Love,
===Anon.


"Picasso at The Lapin Agile" (till 21 December)
PROVINCETOWN THEATER COMPANY
Improv Asylum, 216 Hanover Street, BOSTON
1(617)263-6887

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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