Tuesday, June 13, 2017

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” less than it should be at Blank Canvas

Want to see a play that has been censored?  No, it’s not “Spamalot,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “Godspell,” or “The Laramie Project” (which, incidentally have all been banned, at one time or another, from the stage).   It’s comedian Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”  Yes, that Steve Martin, the standup comedian, actor, musician (he plays a mean banjo), teacher of comedy and playwright. 

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” Martin’s imaginative script about a fictitious meeting between artist Pablo Picasso and scientist Albert Einstein, whose basic topics are the similarities of art and science as a factor in society, anarchy, self-awareness, ego and the forces that will shape the world in the 20th century and beyond. 

In March of 2009, at LaGrande High School in La Grande, Oregon, 137 parents petitioned to have the play shut down before it opened, because of “some of the adult themes and content.”  Martin, while recognizing that some of the "questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed"
he compared the characterization that the play is about "people drinking in bars and treating women as sex objects" to summarizing Shakespeare's Hamlet as being "about a castle." Martin responded to the banning of the play at La Grande High School with an offer to underwrite a production of the play at an alternative location, stating he did not want the play to acquire "a reputation it does not deserve."

The play has another interesting sidebar.  It was not only the first full-length play written by Martin, but at its initial oral reading, which took place at the author’s Beverly Hills, CA home, Tom Hanks read Picasso and Chris Sarandon read Einstein.  How about that for a cast!

It’s October 8, 1904, before Einstein (Robert Kowalewski) is famous for his theory of relativity and Picasso (Roderick Cardwell II) has just started to transition into his cubistic style of painting. 

The setting is the Lapin Agile, a French neighborhood watering hole. 

The duo debate topics such as the values of genius and talent and the cultural influences of the coming century, in the company of an amateur barkeep/ philosopher (Freddy—John Busser), his wife (Germaine—Carla Petroski), a bizarre inventor (Charles Dabernow Schmendiman—Ronnie Thompson), a woman with whom Picasso had an affair (Suzanne--Becca Ciamacco), a bar hanger-on (Gaston—Rich Stimac), a Countess (Britt Will), and an art dealer (Sagot—Greg Mandryk).  The Singer/Elvis Presley (Evan Martin) appears to add another aspect by delving into a musical, unintellectual cultural dimension.

After a lively exchange, Picasso and Einstein come to the conclusion that their abilities are both of value, as is the worth of the entertainer.

The script inspires thought and is filled with humor.  Unfortunately, the production, under the direction of Jonathan Kronenberger doesn’t generate the emotional and logical reaction needed to inspire audience reaction.  The pacing is too languid, the accents confusing and often unnecessary, some performances are on the surface and substitute overdrawn affect for character development.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Comedian Steve Martin has written a thought-provoking, clever script which gets a less than stellar production.  It’s not bad, just not what it could be.

Blank Canvas’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” runs through, June 24, 2017 in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com

Next up at BC is “Equus” in which Dr. Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist, is confronted with a boy who has blinded six horses in a violent fit of passion. To Dysart it is a psychological puzzle that leads both doctor and patient to a complex and disturbingly dramatic confrontation.  (This show contains adult content and nudity.)  August 11-26, 2017.