Monday, April 3, 2017

Picasso at the Lapin Agile Brings Icons to Life with Laughs


Memories come and go, including mine. But if memory serves me right, the version of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, production I saw at the Westwood Playhouse back in 1994 (now called the Geffen Playhouse), wasn’t quite what I witnessed on the Shiley Stage at San Diego’s venerable Old Globe Theatre last week.

Twenty three years later, we’re immersed in a culture with innovative ideas and creative ways to bring them to today’s theatre audiences. When the Old Globe Theatre appointed Barry Edelstein its Artistic Director in October of 2012, the bridge from the past to an exciting and innovative new era became a reality. The last five years of Edelstein’s stewardship has been nothing short of theatrical excellence, in all its forms: old, new, and its experiments with the classics, the standards, and, now, the many challenging stories the twenty-first century will present to its audiences.



Philippe Bowgen as Pablo Picasso and Justin Long as Albert Einstein. All photos by Jim Cox.

The revival production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, now on the Shiley stage, benefits from the close working association between Erna Finci Viterbi play director Barry Edelstein and playwright Martin. This production marks the third play to grace the boards of the Old Globe that have been written by Martin; the other two being the 2014 musical “”Bright Star”, and the 2016 sophisticated comedy “Meteor Shower”.

Edelstein, has gathered for this revival version of “Lapin Agile”, an outstanding group of actors, comedians, and farceurs, all with impeccable timing who generate enough on-stage energy to light half of San Diego.

The story in short, is set in 1904 Paris at the Lapin Agile Bar, a beloved watering hole to struggling artists and would-be geniuses. The regulars prepare for the arrival of two soon-to-be legends Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso who are scheduled to drop in for one extraordinary night where the two ego maniacs, as big as their intellects, spar with the patrons and each other about art, science, inspiration, love, and the promise of the 20th century. Toss into this mix a character known only as “the visitor”, and one is in for brilliant, witty, and a highly entertaining evening in the theatre. Steve Martin wasn’t known as a ‘wild and crazy guy for nothing. Like the pizza man – he delivers. Actually, he’s a very intelligent and accomplished writer, playwright, actor, and musician, and an all-round Renaissance Man.



Hal Linden as Gaston, Philippe Bowgen as Pablo Picasso, Justin Long as Albert Einstein, Donald Faison as Freddy, and Luna Veléz as Germaine

The stellar cast ‘in order of appearance’ (remember this notation it will produce a laugh later) includes: Donald Faison, as Freddy, the owner/bartender of the Lapin Agile, Hal Linden as Gaston, the old gent with a weak bladder problem who delivers loads of zingers, Luna Velez as Germaine, the girlfriend/philosopher of Freddy, Justin Long as Albert Einstein, the world’s, at this moment in time, is a youthful, confident, and oddly appealing genius in waiting, Liza Lapira as the sexy Suzanne, a one-night-stand partner of Picasso, Ron Orbach as Sagot, the slick art dealer, Philippe Bowgen as Pablo Picasso, in all his preening and womanizing self, Marcel Spears as Charles Dabernow Schmendiman, a self-proclaimed business genius with a touch of P.T. Barnum in his resume, and Kevin Hafso-Koppman as the mysterious ‘visitor.

The ‘visitor’ maybe mysterious, but it’s no mystery as to why this production just soars. When nine highly talented actors are directed by the brilliant and inventive Mr. Edelstein, there can be only be one result: a first class production. The stage literally becomes a kaleidoscope of color along with comedy-insight, thanks to the talents of Scenic Designer John Lee Beatty, and Lighting Designer Russell H. Champa, who both recreate and pay homage to the City of Light, just as this terrific ensemble cast does. Costumes designed by Katherine Roth with original music and sound designed by Lindsay Jones, complete the technical team.

As a side bar: The Old Globe nabbed the Outstanding Resident Musical Award last week for their production of “October Sky” at the prestigious Craig Noel Awards ceremonies hosted by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” performs without an intermission (approximately 90 minutes) at The Old Globe Theatre’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage through March 12, 2017.​
--Jack Lyons