There’s something naturally intriguing about renowned people from different walks of life striking up a relationship. It does happen. Didn’t sex-bomb Marilyn Monroe meet and marry the legendary baseball great Joe DiMaggio? Didn’t Al Gore Jr., by some freak of nature, wind up rooming in college with Tommy Lee Jones? And didn’t young Albert Einstein wander into the wrong Parisian bar and bump into the rising artist Pablo Picasso?
OK, so that last one didn’t happen. But it makes a good story. In fact, the scenario is exactly the one concocted by comedian Steve Martin in his hilarious play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which the Actors Bridge Ensemble will present this weekend and next at St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus. When it debuted, the comedy was nominated for a Tony Award and won the 1996 Outer Critics’ Circle Award for best play.
The show is set in 1904 at the Lapin Agile bistro, which Picasso, a painter and notorious lady-killer, was known to haunt during his young adulthood. Artistically, he was then in what came to be known as his ”blue period.“ While everyone in the bar awaits the arrival of Picasso, the 25-year-old Einstein happens to drop by. The energetic physicist, who has taken a mundane job at a patent office, is banking on the laws of probability that his date will also go to the wrong place and, therefore, he and she will eventually meet up.
”Einstein has a wide-eyed wonder for the world. He’s a man who believes that everything has possibility,“ says director Don Griffiths, adding that the show’s humor is derived from looking at history with 20-20 hindsight. ”We know Picasso comes to change the face of art. The movement he’s waiting for is the beginning of the cubist period. He’s waiting for that thing in his life to happen.“
At the opening of a new century, both savants are idealistic and optimistic about their own futures. They also have more in common than either man realizes. Picasso, the tortured artist, complains that, for him, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. Einstein shrth dimension, and in one scene they pit their skills against each other by drawing on napkins:
Einstein: It’s perfect.
Picasso: Thank you.
Einstein: I’m talking about mine.
Picasso: (studies it) It’s a formula.
Einstein: So’s yours.... Yours is lines.
Picasso: My lines mean something.
Einstein: So do mine.
Picasso: Mine will change the future.
Einstein: Oh, and mine won’t?
Producer Bill Feheely says that playwright Martin’s masterstroke lies in the very humanness of all the characters. ”They’re just regular guys who are on the verge of expanding their genius about art, about science, and about life in general,“ he says.
In the Actors Bridge production, Einstein is portrayed by Obediah Ewing-Rush and Picasso by Tom Amirante. Other characters are equally fascinating. Both the bar owner Freddy (played by Milton Bagby) and the vixen Germaine (Elizabeth Bell) are based on historical characters from turn-of-the-century Paris.
Germaine, who in reality was married to another painter when she entered into a dalliance with Picasso, is a composite of the multitude of women who succumbed to the cubist’s charms. When Einstein and Picasso finally come to a meeting of the minds, Germaine brushes them off as a couple of dudes on the make, saying, ”The only reason you got into physics and art in the first place is to meet girls.“
”If Lapin Agile weren’t funny at all, it would still be a wonderful show,“ says Griffiths. ”It’s about me and where I am in my lifestanding on the precipice, waiting for the future. Walking into the future with your eyes wide open.“
Ultimately, all of the turn-of-the-century characters are visited by a time-traveler with blue-suede shoes and a black pompadour. ”Sometimes,“ comments the Lapin Agile bartender as he looks over this star-dusted visitor, ”genius comes from very strange quarters.“
I love this poem!
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