By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Important historical figures of the Twentieth Century converge at a Parisian bar for wine, frivolity and intellectual discourse in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
A young patent clerk named Albert Einstein (Steve Gottschalk) is an early arrival at the titular bar, the Lapin Agile, which roughly translates into Nimble Rabbit. He’s so early, that the owner Freddy (Jenine Peirce) points out that he has, indeed, arrived out of order, according to the play’s program. He’s forced to leave, only to return minutes later, after Germaine (Lee Lytle) makes her entrance. It’s a surreal moment at the beginning of the play that lets the audience know that they’re in for a silly bit of fun.
Before the aforementioned artist arrives, a cast of bizarre characters haunt the watering hole. Gaston (Patrick Conner) is a lecherous old Frenchman, who reminisces about his former sexual conquests, meets Suzanne (Hannah Brizzi), a young woman who is hoping to have another chance encounter with Pablo Picasso (Nico Bernstein).
Other barflies include Sagot (Samantha A. Camp), a swaggering art dealer, the self-aggrandizing Schmendiman (Chris Duvall) and the mysterious Visitor (Stephen Ray), who breaks the barrier of the Time/Space Continuum to raise a glass with the masters of art and science.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is not Martin’s best work. Literarily, it’s closer to “Cruel Shoes” than “Shop Girl,” but there are several laugh out loud moments. It’s absurd and pseudo-intellectual. Think Steve Allen’s “Meeting of the Minds” meets Jay Sommers’ “Green Acres.”
Warning: The Fourth Wall will break so often you’ll expect Deadpool to show up.
There is a profound statement underneath all of the humor. The beginning of the Twentieth Century is defined by science and arts, and the latter half is defined by rock n’ roll. One can only imagine where the Twenty First Century will end up.
“Lapin Agile” is brimming over with witty bon mots, and, in places, it’s riotously funny.
Gottschalk is a cute Einstein. He gets a huge laugh from a referential portrait of the famed scientist.
Conner’s Gaston is a trip. He is charismatic and charming even while being lecherous.
Bernstein is a portrait of an artist as a young man. His costume looks as if it fell out of Renoir’s “Boating Party.” Costume designer Alex Righetti draped him in a marinière and beret, an outfit of a French sailor.
Duvall cut through the scenery with a knife. He plays a larger than life character larger than life! He’s hilarious every second he’s on stage.
Alas, Martin’s play would not pass the Bechtel Test. In the text, the only time women spoke, they spoke of men or love. Director Dan Freeman, however, evened the playing field somewhat by casting women in the roles of Freddy and Sagot; particularly talented women in Peirce and Camp.
Peirce’s Freddy gets some of the best lines. When one bar patron adds “No pun intended,” Freddy quickly quips, “No pun achieved.” Her performance is one of the best in the show.
Many puns are intended in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” but not all of them are achieved. However it’s a bright and enthusiastic cast and a lively ninety minutes up until Elvis has left the building.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” runs May 4th to May 12th at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre space, 937 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.