When the play comes from the creatively twisted mind of comic Steve Martin, and when the main characters Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein only met in the creative crevices of Martin’s mice, only absurdity and bring his imagined meeting to a successful live production as in “Picasso at the Lapine Agile.”
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre leaned on the directorial expertise of Bob Paisley to craft this comedic play with an over-abundance of talented actors who each brings a new level of fun, comedy, and absurdity to each character. Led by Jake Walker as the funniest incarnation of Albert Einstein one could imagine and paired with Andy Penn’s pompous, sexual, and misguided Pablo Picasso, the production screams “Hit” over and over. Walker and Penn set a high standard for all other cans members follow. The balance of the cast fits so well with the entire concept.
Knowing that the twisted mind of Steve Martin conceived each character allowed the cast to add multiple levels to their characters. With this cast, the freedom pays huge dividends. Bryan Moses plays the philosophical bartender who hears and sees all as the absurdity seem to unscathed him. Devon Barnes as Germaine the all seeing/all knowing bar maid masks a future insight that will spin head, yet her grasp on the moment and the absurdity surrounding her brings laughs. Bill Pelletier, plays the slimiest, semi-talented but pompous art dealer, Sagot. Pelletier is funny as a art dealer hell-bent on the buy cheap-sell high and turn a quick profit world of art dealers. He’s the predecessor of used car salesmen.
Kevin Fewell brings Gaston to life. Gaston lampoons the standard uppity Frenchman who seems to live about the conflict. He’s at the bar he’s the observer who can without effort deliver a line that moves the comedy to a different direction or level. His frequent urine-breaks seem to work as scene markers and allow the piece to pivot. His explanation of why he did not return for a second sexual tryst with a specific woman is so French, and so comical, and oh so full of masculine pride. Expect to laugh.
Laura Hendrickson, fairly new to the KC theatre scene landed the opportunity to present three completely different characters to this absurd comedy. She’s outspoken and funny as Suzanne, the woman bent of nailing Picasso again–sexually. She’s charming as the countess, who comes to the wrong bar at the wrong time to meet Eienstein. And, she the poor misguided ingenue looking for the untalented Schmendiman, played by R. H. Wilhoit. Schmendiman bursts on the scene to prove the P.T. Barnum philosophy, “There’s a sucker born every minute,”–and he’s the sucker. He’s the sucker, and he’s very obnoxious and funny. The last character is “The Visitor”–a time traveler that just flashes on the scene and makes a funny play even funnier. No one will expect this time traveler to show and influence the plays outcome and message. Christopher Preyer explodes on the scene and helps resolve the chaos, without really resolving it.
Overall the play is a joy to watch. Ninety minutes with no intermission goes quickly. The Steve Martin dialogue never falters, and the skill of the cast interact so well as they work through how Martin would have imagined each character. There is not a weak moment in the play. There are no weak performances. There is not 30 seconds without a laugh, so be prepared.
Give credit to the production staff who set a high standard for subsequent production. Mitchell Ward, stage manager; Elizabeth Kennell, assistant stage manager; Chuck Pulliam, set designer, John Story, sound designer; Marc Manley, props manager; John Hollan, wig designer; Karen Paisley, Nick Relic, costume designer; all set high standards in their areas that helped create the magic seen by the audiences. Other crew included: Christopher Preyer, Chuck Pulliam, Mitchell Ward, Bryan Moses, Kevin Fewell, Laura Hendrickson, Devon Barnes, Bill Pelletier, R.H. Wilhoit, Andy Penn, Elizabeth Bowman, and Karen Paisley
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” continues at Kansas city’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre from Sept. 8-24. Check the website for information, times dates, and ticket purchase.