"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" by Steve Martin at Lionheart Theatre, March 8-24, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: Verbal Agility
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is full of Steve Martin’s wacky sense of humor. The story takes place in 1904 in a French bar, but we have characters predicting the future of the twentieth century (two spot-on, one off-the-wall; the rule of three). The two main characters, Pablo Picasso (Daniel Cutts) and Albert Einstein (Grant Carden), are world-renowned geniuses, but another character claiming to be their equal is a delusional braggart (once again using the rule of three). Gags abound, with many of them invented by director E. Scott King in the absence of detailed stage directions in the script.
Many aspects of the production are absolutely first-rate. Tanya Moore’s set and props are a delight, showing us a Chinese wood-carved bar in the center of a room filled with period bric-a-brac, featuring artwork by Kudzu Art Zone and custom paintings by Cheryl Young to reflect the requirements of the script and the name of the bar ("The Agile Rabbit" in French). Eclectic café tables and chairs add to the set’s charm. Gary White’s lighting design lets the full, glorious set be seen, with some nice special effects, designed in participation with Bill Brown and Tanya Caldwell, occurring late in the show. Bob Peterson’s sound design has little to do but provide French pre-show music and the sounds of a toilet being flushed, but it excels in both respects.
The first act is sheer perfection. The seven actors appearing in it are all working at the same manic level. The energy of the cast is palpable. Mr. Carden is a complete look-alike to the young Einstein, and his mannerisms and shtick combine with his German accent to create an indelible character. Mr. Cutts has very little stage time in act one as Picasso, but his Spanish inflections and charismatic presence hint at the excellence of his performance to come. The only criticism that can be leveled at him is that he is far more handsome and hunky than the historical Pablo Picasso, and that works in favor of Picasso’s woman-attracting persona in the play.
The bar is run by Freddy (Aaron Sherry), who acts as a narrator of sorts, and his wife Germaine (Jamie Goss). Regular customers are a Frenchman with a pea-sized bladder (Doug Isbecque) and a stylish art impresario (Gregory Nassif St. John), and they are joined by a woman (Jessie Kuipers) expecting to meet Picasso. All create one-of-a-kind characters. Messrs. Isbecque and St. John take every second of stage time they are offered and wring every bit of overblown, comic sincerity from it. Misses Goss and Kuipers are totally in character throughout, and their reactions to others on stage add immense enjoyability to moments when they are not the primary focus. And when they are the primary focus, world watch out as the incandescence of their performances blazes across the stage! All sport French accents, with Mr. Isbecque’s being the most authentic, but all being effective in their own way.
We are introduced to other characters in act two (played by Colton Combs, Cat Rondeau, Veronica Burman, and Briana Murray), but their roles tend to stretch the show out rather than adding new sparks. Every character needs to steal focus outrageously, and the new performances in act two don’t quite equal the heightened level of the continuing performances from act one. Ms. Burman has a funny little one-gag bit and Ms. Murray does a nice celebrity impersonation, but some of the steam seems to leak out as the show goes along. The fact that Mr. Martin’s script goes in a surreal time-travel direction near the end disrupts the momentum that has led to that point.
The ending moments are visually arresting, due to lighting effects and to Tanya Caldwell’s period costumes, but not intellectually or comically arresting. Things don’t tie up neatly or satisfactorily. Mr. King’s direction injects a lot of movement into the action of the show, adding to the kinetic pace of the proceedings, but the gradual slowing in the second act prevents the final tableau from being a sudden moment of calm, insightful introspection.
Overall, Lionheart’s "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is a far more accomplished piece of comic theatre than run-of-the-mill community theatre. Mr. King has obviously inspired his cast to work at the top of their game, and it’s a joy to watch them run through their paces. Fans of Steve Martin’s stand-up comedy or "wild and crazy guy" shenanigans are bound to appreciate this show most of all, but anyone attending with the intentions of having a good time will not be disappointed.