A couple of hundred theater-hungry people descended on the Baltimore Museum of Art on 4/19 for the concluding
staged reading of Steve Martin's play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, performed by Theater Hopkins. Such a
turnout for an abbreviated production by a community group on so pleasant a day speaks volumes about the need for theater
in our lives. It makes this reviewer thankful he lives in the Washington DC area with our 60 plus professional companies.
We don't appreciate how good we have it here.
Comedic film star and writer Steve Martin - Mark Twain Prize Winner
and Kennedy Center Honors Awardee - first had his play performed in Chicago in 1993. The show is set in a bar in Paris
in 1904 and along with Picasso (played with aplomb and rapacity by Michael Byrne Zemarel) features ten other characters, including
the young Albert Einstein (played with a pithy abstraction by Joey Hellman). Everyone's Waiting For His Picasso
(and commenting on him) as the play opens and to the delight of all he appears, a simmering 25 minutes into the show.
You will be reminded of Tom Stoppard's Travesties as historical figures are reimagined and fictional characters
are created as a foil for their zany ideas. The play examines how the great scientist and artist are fundamentally alike
at their core: both force facts to fit their vision and both arrive at the same point, a transcendental beauty, though they
travel different pathways. And looking forward, how those visions converge and expand exponentially in the new media
of popular culture and celebrity.
As with any Steve Martin script or performance this one is noted for
its playful and spirited use of language. There are linguistic leaps, verbal flights of fancy and spritely wordplay
galore. Characters speak over each other and miscommunication abounds. The play is part burlesque, part vaudevillian,
the structure and action disjointed as the notions of time and space will be when the principals make their imminent contributions
to their respective fields. Everyone's twenty-five when their ship comes in. Whenever the action flags, the writer
sends in the clowns: first with the wily and debonair art dealer Sagot (excellently realized by Tony Colavito) and then by
Schmendiman (B. Thomas Rinaldi) who bounds on stage in a pair of bold brown plaid pants with matching vest and crashes through
the fourth wall. I didn't think the part was too far from kitsch when I read it, but as it was realized in his great
performance we all got it and we all laughed. This was the future and it spoke to us, an Impresario of Industry
(Read: Movies and Advertising), who has developed "a very brittle and inflexible building material" which is "made
from: equal parts asbestos, kitten paws, and radium." You had to be there!
attention focused on the future, toward the end, a Visitor (Raffi Wartanian) from the 1950s appears, looking every inch the
King. Yes, it's Elvis who it turns out is the manifestation of many characters' inner artist and one woman's
fantasy: a popular singer who's a regular guy. He delivers a message from the muse to Picasso in the form of a vision:
Les Demoiselles d'Avigon which he straightaway appropriates as his own. A nice duet of mutual admiration
ensues until Picasso mentions their shared originality, when the King reminds him that "we both took our ideas from the
art of the Negro." Then it's time for a photo op and rumination on and toast to the twentieth century,
which despite all of their varied aspirations, turned out to be the Age of Regret. Well that's life and if these
characters live on someplace ... they'll pick themselves up and get back in the race. So said another King a little
Theater Hopkins, ably directed by Suzanne Pratt, is the second oldest community theater in
Baltimore. Cast members (one playing multiple roles) entered in costume and dressed the stage at one of eight music
stands. Some of them relied on the script while others entered comfortably off-book, a few continuing their performances
without written lines at times, especially Katherine Lyons who was totally at ease in her delightful portrayal of the waitress
and girlfriend, Germaine. She was nicely complemented by Beverly Shannon doing triple duty as Suzanne, The Countess,
and A Female Admirer, each with a different look and degree of independence. The cast was capably rounded out by David
E. Elvore as Gaston, a sort of bar philosopher and Michael O'Connell as Freddy the Lapin Agile proprietor. Kudos
to the company for bringing this enjoyable work to life!
The show was entirely entertaining and the
audience signaled their approval with an extended round of applause. The run time was about 90 minutes with no intermission.
Progress: Acceptable or what you would expect for this type of production
Applause Meter: A solid