Transcript: Connie Meng, 10/26/09
Syracuse Stage has opened their season with a hilarious production of PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE by Steve Martin. Yes, the "King Tut" Steve Martin. His first play, it opened in Chicago in 1993, then in 1995 won the Outer Critics Circle Award in New York for Best Off-Broadway Play. It's an entertaining mix of philosophical speculation and absurdist comedy.
The central question of the play is what would have happened if a young Picasso, age 23, and a young Einstein, age 25, both creative and original thinkers, had met at the Lapin Agile in Paris in 1904. Picasso did actually hang out there and as Martin says, "[it] was a place where artists came to talk about their work but were really trying to pick up women."
William Bloodgood's set looks very authentic, and he's come up with a neat twist for the penultimate scene. Don Darnutzer's lighting is excellent, especially the starry firmament. Deb Trout's costumes are very good, especially the female admirer's motoring outfit and Schmendiman's colorful get-up. Jonathan Herter's sound is fine and I loved the music choices for the final scene and the curtain call. Malcolm Ingram has done a good job with Einstein's and Picasso's dialects - they're just enough.
Michael Tisdale is fine as Freddy, the bartender, and slips easily from the scenes into references to the fact that it's a play. The opening mix-up of entrances with Einstein is hilarious. As Germaine, his assistant, Nancy Rodriguez doesn't seem comfortable in the role and lacks humor and genuine believability. However Brendan Naylor is a believable hoot as the irrepressible inventor, Schmendiman. I loved both his hair and his specious comparison of talent and genius.
Larry Paulsen is good as the slick art dealer Sagot and, as the Visitor, Denis Lambert has the body language and style down pat. Craig MacDonald as Gaston, an aging barfly, has a wonderful line about his sometimes frisky behavior: "I'm only newly old. I'm just getting used to it." He's very funny in his story of the difficulty of painting shutters and his soft crooning of "Sing, sing, sing."
Susannah Flood is terrific in multiple roles. As Suzanne she has a wonderfully puzzled air. Her pigeon story has the audience giggling and her appearance as a female admirer is worthy of a belly laugh.
Joseph Midyett is a dimpled Picasso, fiery and emotional with an eye for the ladies. It's a strong and believable performance. During the riotous scene of a group photograph when everyone's trying to find a word to say to produce a smile, he goes into a terrific sulk and refuses to smile at the word "Matisse".
Matt Harrington is a perfect Einstein from his wild hair to his green socks and he handles the complex language with ease. His laughing fit is infectious; his dissertation on pie and the alphabet is hilarious, as is his first entrance.
Director Penny Metropulos, who did such a fine job last season with UP, has done one equally fine with this unusual script which swings constantly from serious discussion to off-the-wall humor. Her staging is excellent, particularly Picasso supine on the bar and Einstein expounding wildly while standing on a chair. Most of all she's kept the characters human. The moment of Einstein's and Picasso's meeting of the minds is truly exhilarating.
Due to scheduling conflicts I got to this production in its second week. There are only eight more performances, so don't miss the opportunity to see a terrific production of this very smart, very funny and very entertaining play.
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE gets four and three fourths oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.