Steve Martin’s celebrity-laden classic comedy comes to town
By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Reviews
Currently at the Old Globe Theatre, Artistic Director Barry Edelstein gleefully stages Steve Martin’s 1993 play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which is rife with innovation and splendid speeches about ideas, their inspiration and art.
It features a stunningly beautiful denouement heavily dependent upon John Lee Beatty’s magnificently ephemeral set, with assists from costume designer Katherine Roth, lighting designer Russell H. Champa, and sound designer Lindsay Jones, who provides original music with Parisian flavor.
Comedian Steve Martin’s play concerns a fictional 1904 meeting between the young Pablo Picasso (stage and film actor Philippe Bowgen) and the young Albert Einstein (splendid stage and film actor Justin Long), who were born in 1881 and 1879, respectively.
The setting is a Parisian bistro named Lapin Agile. It’s a hangout for artists and would-be artists.
Each man is on the brink of great personal change that will affect the future: Picasso, an escape from his “blue period,” and Einstein, the refining and publication of his theory of relativity.
The resulting innovations, artistic and scientific, will rock the 20th century, but the characters don’t know it, because right now they are engaged in small talk, posturing and the pursuit of pleasure.
But some of the others at the Lapin Agile seem to know, and the third genius, a time-traveller from the incipient century that wears blue suede shoes, definitely has a clue.
Edelstein’s company is star-studded. He cast others as follows to limn Martin’s additional characters: Freddy (Donald Faison of “Scrubs”) and Germaine, the barkeep and his wife (Broadway, TV and film actor Luna Velez); an older bar habitué named Gaston (distinguished actor Hal Linden); three women looking for love (all played by Liza Lapira); a flamboyant art dealer (Broadway actor Ron Orbach); the visitor from the future (excellent San Diego actor Kevin Hafso-Koppman of the Globe/USD Shiley Graduate Program); and an inventor named Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (classical actor of stage and screen Marcel Spears), whose invention lets one know he’ll be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Martin began his career on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967-69) for which he earned his first Emmy Award for his outstanding comedy writing. In the mid-’70s he starred on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” He has also authored and/or appeared in numerous films and is an accomplished banjoist.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is the third of Martin’s works to be produced by the Globe in three years as he and Edelstein enjoy a friendship of 30 years duration.
In 2014 the Globe premiered Martin’s musical, “Bright Star,” which received five Tony Award nominations upon its subsequent Broadway premiere; and last season’s Globe world premiere, the twice-extended comedy “Meteor Shower.”
“Picasso” is heady, guffaw-funny and droll and will be especially enjoyed by theater mavens, artists and lovers of art history.