Picasso at the Lapin Agile
Martin plays with the relativity of time itself as he spoofs the ambitions of both Picasso and Einstein in this imagined meeting of the two geniuses. When a young admirer of Picasso's hands Einstein a drawing that the artist gave her after a tryst, Einstein studies it, saying, "I never thought the 20th century would be handed to me so casually." This moment, and another, when those in the café confront the future when a panel of Picasso's Demoiselles appears before them from behind a curtain, give the audience a sense of how truly new Picasso's art was then and how perceptive Einstein was about the slippages between an idea and its expression. Director Beth Welt keeps the pace crisp, letting the one-liners and witticisms zing without waiting for proof that the audience is keeping up, which it definitely was at Sunday's performance. At several points, art, in the persona of Picasso, and science, via Einstein, vie center stage for ascendancy just as they did during that roiling century.
Graham Gentz's portrayal of Einstein is whimsical, quick and appealing, making the young scientist often appear to be the puppeteer pulling the strings of the other café occupants. He seems to already have one foot in the future and a toehold on the fame he will soon possess. Picasso, played by Paul Rodriguez Jr., is an earthier, more self-serving character as written by playwright Martin. His mind frequently distracted with sensual pleasures, he can't always keep up with the quick-witted Einstein. Biographers have written extensively of Picasso's narcissism and prodigious sexual life. Martin clearly alludes to that here but neglects to dramatize the huge ambition or imagination that fed the explosive life force that kept Picasso creating into his 80s. It's a tall order, given the theories of modernism that do come alive here, including interplay of randomness, spontaneity, and the indeterminacy of meaning that characterized much of 20th century thinking and art.
John van der Meer's design allows for the interplay of chance and random acts by placing the cozy café downstairs of a series of steps leading to the street outside: we get to see the legs of people walking by, as well as those of people who enter. It gives us the feeling that there are multiple possibilities at any one moment, underscoring a major theme of the play.
Martin's absurdist impulses sometimes get in the way of fully developed characters, but the humor delights nonetheless. This staging and cast have energy and sparkle. Many moments make this production nimble; a few examples are Sagot's commentary on the importance of the frame in a Matisse work ("You have to make it stay within the boundaries to make it interesting"), the dazzling appearance of A Visitor from later in the century (played with charisma by Isaac Guerin), and absurdist comments like "taste is no object." The hopefulness and idealism of the early 20th century is a refreshing change from our cynical post-modern age.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin plays at Auxiliary Dog Theatre, 3011 Monte Vista in Albuquerque, New Mexico through September 26, 2010; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $14.00. Call 505-254-7716 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. See www.auxdog.org for more information.
-- Lynn C. Miller