Friday, December 5, 2014

Theater Review: Picasso at the Lapin Agile -- Long Wharf

Robbie Tann, front, and David Margulies. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
A Comic Meeting of the Minds that Shaped the 20th Century
By Lauren Yarger
Have you heard the one about Picasso and Einstein walking into a bar?

In Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, getting a run at Long War Theatre, the joke becomes plot. The Lapin Agile is a bar in 1904 Paris run by Freddy (Tom Riis Farrell), whose art appreciation includes a much-mocked portrait of a bunch of sheep, and Freddy’s lusty girlfriend, Germaine (Penny Balfour). Genius Picasso (Grayson DeJesus) hangs out there in between creating a masterpiece or seducing beautiful women.

One of the painter’s latest conquests, Suzanne (Dina Shihabi), announces her intention to wait for the man who drew her cubist sketch after a couple of intimate encounters. She strikes up a conversation with an awkward, but very intelligent and cocky Albert Einstein (an engaging Robbie Tann) who is besotted with a countess (also Shihabi).

Einstein and Picasso banter and compete (with a very funny duel scene directed by Gordon Edelstein) as they try to convince everyone that their next amazing idea will change the course of the world in the new century. Einstein will go on to deliver the theory of relativity and Picasso will change the art world with works like “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” They find that the creative processes for a scientist and an artist might not be as different as they thought.

Among their audience in the bar are Gaston (David Margulies), an older man who frequently has to leave the action to use the rest room, Sagot (Ronald Guttman), Picasso’s art dealer who infuriates him by praising Matisse, and a mysterious visitor from the future (Jake Silbermann) whose musical contributions leave a part of the new century “all shook up.” Also stopping in the bar/café (designed by Michael Yeargan) is a guy named Schmendiman (Jonathan Spivey) who doesn’t seem to know much about anything, but who is convinced a great idea from him will be the one that changes the 20th century.

Martin’s intelligent, witty dialogue provides chuckles, and Tann’s frenzy-haired, over-confident Einstein, who often has a belly laugh while getting jokes after the fact, is quite amusing.

In 1993, this was the first stage play written by the comedian, known for a variety of writing and acting roles in TV and film (“Saturday Night, Live,” “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels,” “Parenthood,” “Father of the bride”). My personal favorite is his movie “Roxanne,” an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. I couldn’t help wishing that Martin himself couldn’t be there to deliver lines that had his mark on them. Gaston sounded more like Walter Matthau than an old French coot.

Germaine provides a voice of reason, with the idea of making us remember that all women aren’t as content to be treated as sexual objects like the characters here might suggest. Shihabi portrays various kinds of feminine stereotypes from the sensual Suzanne (making an entrance that has her ripping her top off) to grand and domineering (the countess) to innocent and modest (as the newest admirer of Picasso). Their costumes (design by Jess Goldstein) are disappointing, however, and seem drab (with odd combinations of colors) compared to the guys in their dapper turn-of century attire.

Martin drags out the ending of the play, however, stretching the otherwise brisk 85-minute, no intermission play.

Catch it through Dec. 21 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets are $ $25-$75. (203) 787-4282;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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