Isaac J Cruz and Ryan Stiffelman in Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Photo by Khue Cai.
The word “pun” is often preceded by “dreadful,” as in, “I rolled my eyes when he made another one of his dreadful puns.” I could name a few chronically dreadful punsters.
Steve Martin is not one of them. Steve Martin’s bon mots decorate Picasso at the Lapin Agile like sparkling Christmas lights. They are urbane, enlightening and historically accurate (ish) while still managing to be LOL-funny.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile premiered in Los Angeles at the Westwood (now Geffen) Playhouse in 1994. I loved it so much back then that I went a second time, to share this gift with a friend. She, on the other hand, despised it so much she feigned a babysitter problem and left within the first 15 minutes.
It’s worth noting that she is no longer a friend, and I think Picasso was the beginning of the end for us. (Art and politics: they hold the power to unite or divide.)
Ruskin Group Theatre presented Picasso at the Lapin Agile almost 20 years ago, and it’s clear why they, under the direction of Amelia Mulkey, have returned to it. The show is fast-paced, raucous and broadly funny, with some out-of-control characters; Mulkey excels at herding these cats.
The play is ostensibly about an imagined meeting between a randy Pablo Picasso (Isaac J. Cruz) and a charming Albert Einstein (Ryan Stiffelman) at a Parisian bar in 1904, when both were hitting their respective peaks. Picasso, who had recently relocated to Montmartre, was transitioning from his Blue Period to his Rose Period. And 1904 was the cusp of Einstein’s annus mirabilis, when he published four papers that revolutionized science, including the theory of special relativity and a consequence of it expressed as E = mc2; his time at the Lapin Agile “theoretically” helped him figure out a few details.
The styles of the two characters couldn’t be more different, but their minds are brilliantly creative, drawing a direct parallel between advances in art and science.
The humor is mined from the details of hindsight, such as a reference to drinking rosé that hints at that impending Rose Period. Bartender Freddy (J. Teddy Garces) and Server Germaine (Amy Motta) handle the unruly patrons. They include Gaston, a pontificating Wallace Shawn type (Fred Deni), a Picasso consort (Ashley Barrett, who despite having the yummiest and most complicated costumes, also plays two other characters), the dogmatic and inevitably wrong inventor Schmendiman (Hudson Long), profit-mongering art dealer Sagot (Jack Merrill) and a time-traveling visitor (Jackson Glenn).
Excellent scenic design by Ryan Wilson and costumes by Michael Mullen add to the intellectually over the top pleasures of this gleeful stage experience. Don’t miss it!
Picasso at the Lapin Agile is performed at 8:00pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00pm Sundays through April 2. For tickets, which are $20-35, click here. Ruskin Group Theatre is at 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90405.