Picasso at the Lapin Agile
-Theatre Review by Victoria Kennedy–
Catonsville, MD. 10/17- 26. Salem Players presented: Picasso at the Lapin Agile. For those who missed this gem of a performance, here’s a recap. Daniel Douek directed a community theatre rendition of the comedy by Steve Martin.
In his directorial debut, Douek embraces Martin’s legendary wit, crafting hilarious scenes that develop at a breakneck pace. Set in 1904, patrons of a Parisian bar called the “Lapin Agile” await the arrival of Pablo Picasso. The scene is a charming space decorated with wood grain. The bar dominates the set, adorned with jewel- tones and a large painting of a pastoral landscape hanging above. This authentic neighborhood watering hole is somehow cozy enough to attract the most unlikely customers.
The magic, which takes the shape of an extended Saturday Night Live episode, begins when Freddy (Chris Carothers), the bartender, steps out from behind the closed curtain. He introduces himself and invites the audience inside the bar. Etiquette is disturbed, when Gaston (Scott Graham), a feisty, dirty old man, enters. The drunkard sings loudly, and talks nonstop about sex and drinking.
Next to arrive, Albert Einstein (Harris Allgeier) is young and neatly dressed with slick hair. He walks around tentatively seeking the ideal seat. At which point, audiences learn that this is no ordinary play. “In order of appearance, you’re not third,” the bartender objects to seeing Allgeier diverge from the scripted action. In a notable departure from the norm, he walks out into the audience and retrieves a copy of the program. “You’re fourth. It says so right here; Cast in order of appearance.”
We get our first hint of Picasso’s presence, when young Suzanne (Gemma Davimes) enters, saying; “I heard Picasso comes here.” Heads turn. Her enthusiasm and curiosity for the celebrity suggests an intimate relationship or the desire for one. When the bar crowd confirms that Picasso “sometimes” frequents the bar, she extracts clothing from her bag. She then asks everyone to turn around – except for Gaston, who she sees as no threat, due to his age – and exposes her bra, as she changes into a more revealing top. Aware of Gaston’s obsession with sex, the audience gets a laugh out of this gesture.
By the time Pablo Picasso makes his entrance (he’s seventh), Einstein has dominated the small gathering of bar patrons, conversing about his scientific theories with Freddy’s girlfriend Germaine (Ashley Gerhardt). Throughout this dialogue, Einstein also displays his uncanny ability to problem solve, as Freddy solicits his help tallying his liquor order. Soon the bar has attracted a small crowd, including Picasso’s art dealer Sagot (John D’Amato). Just as their topic turns to Picasso, the legendary artist enters Lapin Agile.
Felix Hernandez is impressive in his stage debut. He passionately portrays the insecure genius, Picasso, shedding light on the real life Picasso’s immense dislike for his archrival Matisse. Hernandez jumps right into the hilarious fray, announcing, “I’ve been thinking about sex all day.” To which Gaston replies, “I’ve been thinking about it for sixty-two years.” The conversation unravels, revealing the full extent to which the pair obsess over women.
Despite the other patrons’ ostentatious interest in their distinguished guests, Einstein is, in fact, the most surprised and fascinated to discover Picasso. Before this night, he didn’t know the man existed. Both men are on the brink of tremendously successful careers. They proceed to exchange ideas, realizing that art and science are not so different. Einstein tells him, “I work the same way. I make beautiful things with a pencil.” They begin to compare their work and the methods by which they create. Their passionate exchange results in one of the most interesting scenes of the play: a duel of pencils, Einstein vs. Picasso. The result is a mutual respect and admiration for art and science.
“You two are sprouting a lot of bullshit…,” Germaine ridicules their peculiar conversation. She even suggests that they have only pursued physics and art simply to meet women.
Another character, Schmendiman (Bennett Remsberg), adds another dimension to the fast-paced production when he bursts into the bar. The zany young man claims to be an inventor who “will be changing the century.” He then extols the value of following one’s heart to cement his place in history, before making a hasty exit.
Rounding out the cast is “the Countess,” (Hannah Kempton), and “the Female Admirer” (Crystal Sewell). Picasso assumes Sewell is a swooning fan, when in fact she’s an admirer of Schmendiman’s. Then there’s “the Visitor,” (Orbie Shively). Late in the play, “the Visitor” adds a strange element. This oddball character dressed in a sharkskin-esque suit complete with blue suede shoes claims to be from the future and embodies the lip-curling King of Rock-n-Roll.
Meanwhile, Einstein and Picasso continue to look ahead into the twentieth century, envisioning their influential roles. In the wake of a shooting star, the men and their supporting cast, grasp the endless possibilities of what the future holds and infuse the audience with the enthusiasm to believe in their prowess.
Douek, also a seasoned actor, shows promise, as a director. His rendition of Picasso at the Lapin Agile poses a delightful riddle: what happens when Einstein and Picasso meet in a bar? “I never thought the twentieth century would be handed to me so casually,” Einstein says, acknowledging the talent of Picasso. Indeed, in one act, the audience is given a glimpse into the different perspectives, hopes and ideas that these two figures championed. Audiences laugh, because Einstein and Picasso make their work look so easy.
Post Photos Courtesy of Daniel Douek