Steve Martin’s play at The Blue Room both ridicules and re-establishes the idea of destiny
It’s fun to think that maybe there is such a thing as destiny, that certain lives are inextricably linked with their individual and inescapable fates. Comedian/actor/writer Steve Martin addresses, ridicules and somehow magically re-establishes exactly that notion in his award-winning play Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
The play poses the teaser, “What if Einstein and Picasso met in a Parisian dive, before they were famous?” We find out the answer during the course of The Blue Room’s wonderful production.
Yeah, wonderful. Every aspect of this show is top notch, from the lights, costumes and the fabulous set (a “real” bar, with a liquor cabinet in the wall, knick-knacks everywhere, and wooden stools, tables and chairs) to the script, the direction and the solid acting.
The setting is the above-described tavern, the Lapin Agile, run by Freddy and his wife, Germaine. The couple plays host mainly to artistic types, from the elderly “poet” Gaston to the painter and physicist around whom the tale revolves. Einstein makes his first entrance out of “order of appearance” (see program), setting up Martin’s repeated and effective assault on the so-called “fourth wall,” that is, the audience itself. Many characters address the audience directly, refer to the program’s cast of characters and so on. In a way, this too reinforces the idea that we are all in an Einsteinian universe, all players in the same closed space.
Anyway, eventually, after much hype from various characters (including one of Picasso’s recent romantic conquests), the artist himself appears. This leads to a funny artistic duel, the aftermath of which is the two geniuses sitting down and discovering just how much their individual concepts have in common.
To round things out, there’s an art dealer, Sagot, an annoying American “wannabe” genius, Schmendiman, a countess and a “valley girl"-styled admirer, and The Singer—a distinctly Elvis-like figure who jumps into the past/present to explain everything to Al and Pablo regarding the future and fame.
John Tomlinson does a good job with Freddy. His character’s comments and smart-alecky remarks are the most trademark representatives of Martin’s comedy style in the show, and Tomlinson is up to the delivery. As Germaine, Freddy’s long-suffering and occasionally unfaithful wife, Marianna Eriksson brings an attractive economy of movement and facial expressions, relying more on inflection to convey her character’s feelings and intentions. And Lew Gardner is funny as the sometimes acerbic, sometimes wistful Gaston.
As Schmendiman, Adam Wadlow brings a kind of manic confidence; it doesn’t matter how absolutely ludicrous Schmendiman’s ideas are, his particular brand of American optimism, to his mind anyway, practically guarantees his success. The fact that there is no historically significant person by that name generates a good part of the humor in his scenes.
As Sagot, Bill O’Hare brings a believable quality to the art dealer who gives Picasso a pittance for his work, then turns around and sells it for more. Yet the character is not without charm. Alice Wiley-Pickett is enjoyable in all three of her roles, particularly as Suzanne, Picasso’s recent conquest.
And as Picasso, Einstein and Elvis (all right, technically the character is listed as “The Singer,” but it is Elvis), Miguel Reyna is terrific as Picasso, very physical, forceful, energetic, horny, Joe Manente is great as Einstein, cerebral, humorous and every bit as horny as Picasso, and Eric Bates is enjoyable as Elvis.
Unfortunately, I can’t repeat my favorite scene in the show—it’s too intrinsic to the play’s sense of destiny. But I can hint: It has to do with the three men’s relative significance to future generations. "I’m sorry, guys," the obvious one says. "That’s just the way it works out."