By M. L. Byrd
To enjoy Steve Martin’s PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE one only has to know the actor’s comedy. To truly appreciate it, one has to acknowledge the dramatist’s intellect. Sycamore Rouge plays to both sides of Martin’s talent. The cast is excellent, and it should be noted that this is the Petersburg debut of several members.
The play builds from a standard set-up line: two men walk into a bar—only these two are geniuses, a twenty-five year old Einstein (the Einstein) and a twenty-three year old Picasso (the one and only, as he himself maintains throughout the play). Already present are Freddy (David Janosik), an intelligent and hospitable bar-tender, a regular patron (Larry Akin Smith), and the bar-tender’s educated and feisty girlfriend Germaine (Liz Blake White).
Actually, Einstein (Adam Mincks) does mess up and enter third, but that’s just part of Martin’s slap-stick. Also, several women, an infatuated Suzanne (Irene Kuykendall), who has had sex with Picasso, and a savvy Sagot (Kellita A. Wooten), who sells the artist’s work at twice what she pays, also enter before the painter. This staging, however, is not just for comedy’s sake; the group’s banter is engaging and creative, even without the artist. Smith plays a debonair and handsome Gaston. While the clever Freddy orchestrates the interactions, Gaston anchors the play, matching and balancing the energy of the younger set.
La Lapine Agile is a real bar known for the intelligence and élan of its patrons. At the turn of the century, artists, anarchists, and writers did ponder the meaning of both life and art at this popular Montmartre locale. Therefore, the premise that two geniuses would walk into the bar is not far-fetched; the ensuing witty repartee, withering put-downs, ribald come-ons, and ripe wise-cracks, not unexpected.
The play offers a fast and furious foray into philosophy, economics, art, and politics. It reconciles the science/humanities divide that C. P. Snow identified in 1959’s “The Two Cultures” and ridicules the business mentality of Schmendiman (Phil Vollmer). It also introduces Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity as Sagot’s vision of a messenger (with a package) surprisingly coalesces with Germaine’s yearning for a “country boy,” as a time-traveler (Kent Holden) appears to foretell the turn in Picasso’s art from the blue to the rose period and affirm the realization of the two earlier figures’ ambitions.
The play’s end recalls and recasts a poem by Stephen Crane.
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
The play replaces this poem’s 1899 pessimism with optimism and exuberance. It explores and applauds (with post-modern self-consciousness) the generative impact all individuals—and human interactions–make, a province and right not just reserved for genius.
PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE runs December 3rd through 23rd. Friday and Saturday’s showtime is 8:00 p.m.; Sunday’s is 4:00. Tickets may be purchased at www.sycamorerouge.org or 804.957.5707.