Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Given the general tenor of the times, a comedy may understandably be the way to start the New Year. Possibly to that end, Flint Community Players’ newest offering, Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, does make progress toward filling the bill.
The year is 1904 on the cusp of the 20th century and the scene unfolds in a Paris bar known as the Lapin Agile. (Compliments are in order for the detailed and well-executed set by designers Tomoko Miller and Rick Doll.)
Patrons begin to arrive and among the first are a doddering elderly gentleman known as Gaston (Jonathan Smith) who proves himself a master of the zinger as he interjects perfectly timed comic quips throughout the evening. Next a young Albert Einstein arrives played with charm, wit and definite character dexterity by Bary Lehr.
These two semi-spar with bartender Freddy (Michael Poehner) until Freddy realizes that Einstein/Lehr has entered the bar out of order. He proves this by grabbing a program from an audience member that lists Lehr as fourth in order of appearance not third.
Barmaid Germaine (Marie VanHorn), listed third, arrives as Lehr leaves and all is back in order. If all of this sounds silly, then just remember who the playwright is, picture Saturday Night Live, and you may come to grips with the comedy to come.
Einstein is 25, still working on his Theory of Relativity and an unknown commodity in the intellectual realm. He is intrigued by the arrival of Suzanne (Lindsay McCarty) who arrives looking for Picasso. It seems she has had something of an affair with the artist and is anxious to renew the relationship. She guards a roughly drawn portrait he scribbled on a slip of paper and presented to her.
Artistic agent and sometime dealer Sagot (Patrick Munley) explodes into the bar to tout his new “find”, a tiny Matisse painting that he insists hang on the wall in place of a much larger Rembrandt.
So, you’re wondering where is Picasso? Director Miller seems to have opted for an intermission in what is usually a 90 minute non-stop performance which finds the title character entering with gusto just as the lights go down on the first act.
Nicholas Weiss plays the 23-year-old painter as a brash but as yet unpolished and roguish persona. He has achieved some celebrity status locally, but it is after all Paris, and he does have some impressive competition. He and Einstein joust intriguingly over the future prominence of art versus science; their face off with paper and pencils is both humor and hubris.
Two pending geniuses are probably enough in one place, but then Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Alex Weiss) enters with bombast and (unfortunately) garbled delivery about his place on the whiz kid spectrum.
McCarty also does a good job of playing two other young women, one innocently enamored surprisingly of Schmendiman and the other an intellectual redhead with leanings toward Einstein.
Ultimately, after much speculation about what might transpire as the century unfolds – (Germaine imagines that Hiroshima will be “modernized”) – a final character appears. The Visitor (Ryan Fuhst) is a country boy time traveler sporting blue suede shoes who provides some balance and interesting dimension to the speculation.
Overall, this show is typical Martin – a cross between slapstick and brainiac, comedy and creativity – but nevertheless a fascinating bit of guesswork as to what might have transpired if these two ever actually had come together to discuss their future endeavors over drinks and women.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile continues at Flint Community Players at 7:30 pm January 13, 14, 20 & 21, and at 2:30 pm January 15 & 22. For tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com