When audiences first meet Einstein in Long Wharf’s production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, his hair is neatly combed. “What you don’t recognize me?” asks the actor playing the genius of relativity. He then runs his hands through his hair feverishly until it looks wild and weird. He suddenly looks just like we imagined Einstein to look. Laughter erupted throughout the transformation.
When it comes to genius, comedian/writer Steve Martin, not only includes Einstein, but Picasso in this hilarious play. Truth be told, Martin can also be considered a genius, of the comedic variety. In Lapin Agile, translated as the “nimble rabbit,” while the play has fun with two great minds, it also spotlights Martin’s marvelous mind. After all, he still is “a wild and crazy guy.” However, there’s nothing crazy about his being honored with the 2015 American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, which has only been awarded to one other comedian ever – Mel Brooks. As a playwright, Steve Martin has another popular play under his belt (pun intended), called “The Underpants,” and a new play, “Bright Star,” which is scheduled to open on Broadway.
Currently, his play at Long Wharf is directed by Gordon Edelstein with his funny bone intact. Set at the turn of the twentieth century, Martin imagines Einstein and Picasso meeting at a café in Montmartre, Paris. At the time, Paris was the place to be to “cultivate genius.” Montmartre was the place where poor artists and intellectuals hung out. The two main characters in Picasso at the Lapin Agile welcome the changes of the new era as they celebrate romance, genius, and themselves. While audiences can’t help but laugh out loud at some of the hilarious events of the play, they also can’t help but take into account the serious contributions these men made to the world. That’s what makes the play so much fun. Einstein challenges Picasso’s genius and they both frantically work miracles on a bar room table as if playing a game of intellectual ping pong. They are not alone; others in the cast are quite eccentric and one is a surprise visitor to the 20th century who shows up wearing blue suede shoes.
Robbie Tann plays Einstein with plenty humor. His sharp portrayal lends credence to the genius of Einstein. Grayson DeJesus plays Picasso with lusty insight, while some of the other characters are more memorable than others. For instance, Freddy the bartender played by Tom Riis Farrell will make you laugh every time he says “Hey, Einstein.” He says it without knowing what this saying will eventually become. Dina Shihabi as the sexy woman who wants to connect with Picasso after having a short affair with him also adds a bit a spice to the production. Others in the cast perform uniformly well and include: David Margulies, Penny Balfour, Ronald Guttman, Jonathan Spivey, and Jake Silbermann.
Edelstein pulled out all the stops for his creative team with a sepia-colored set designed by Michael Yeargan, costume design by Jess Goldstein, lighting design by Donald Holder, and sound design by David Budries. These are best-of-the-best designers and their work here shows their talents. Picasso at the Lapin Agile plays through Dec. 21. Box office: 203-787-4282
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]