Picasso at the Lapin Agile: A Theatre Review

Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, and Elvis Presley enter a bar in 1904, France.  This is not a set up for some bad joke but rather the premise behind an oddly funny show.

It may just be the intelligent writing of Steve Martin, or it could be the rather enjoyable acting. It was probably a combination of these things and more that made Santa Monica College's performance of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" on Sat., Oct. 24, as directed by Danny Campbell, surpass the mundane expectation of college theater. 

The play grabs your attention by focusing on an ordinary painting. As the lights rise to display a minimal and clean set, the bartender and owner of Lapin Agile, Freddy (Robert MacBain), plays host to delusional artists who have randomly come together on a crazy night that leads to wonders of conversations.  

Gaston (Craing Bruenell), a rather Mr. Ropert looking character circa "Three's Company," finds himself lost alongside the 25-year-old Einstein (Christopher Brisson) and a Picasso that he doesn't meet until the later half of the show.  

Brunnell's performance was enjoyable for all extensive purposes, however, his exaggerated gestures and awkward blocking led to a small disconnect between the audience and the character.  On the other hand, his "need to pee," conveniently occurred in intervals that allowed for quite a few chuckles and for seamless transitions between scenes.

MacBain took an opportunity at the start of the show to indicate the importance of audience interaction.  By looking at an audience member's program, the opportunity Macbain took to break theater's rarely crossed "fourth wall" allowed for a personal connection between the two worlds.  Similarly, sitting on the laps of audience members while laughing about comments made by Freddy showed Brisson's playful interaction. 

As the show continued, Germaine (Dionne Elsey) and Suzanne (Christina Cangarlu) added a dynamic that didn't fit the early 20th century.  As the waitress and Freddy's girlfriend, Germaine had witty monologues, a stronger presence, and managed to predict everything from landing on the moon to the corruption of society.  Although, Freddy made it clear that none of this could ever happen because world peace would occur.

Suzanne on the other hand was the playful vixen who swooned over Picasso despite his forgetting of the romantic evenings with her previously.  Cangarlu plays the character who dabbles in sex and comedy.  Her acting was impressively natural and the Spanish-inspired red dress didn't hurt her appeal to the male audience.

The comedy was all around tongue-and-cheek, accompanied by an abundance of witty banter.  Einstein's mathematical genius was further induced by Picasso's appearance in the second half

Rafael Siu played Picasso as a romantic womanizer who was quite involved in his art.  The self-absorbed Picasso fit in quite well at the bar and just like every other character's entrance, the ordinary painting caught his eye and conversation was started.  

The conversation turned playful as Picasso and Einstein dueled in a battle of arts: drawing and science respectively.  The duel allowed for a number of peculiarly funny jokes about letters and lines.  The play demonstrated a nice balance between vulgar humor and witty banter that proved science could actually be rather amusing.

As the story progressed, Picasso and Suzanne's interest with one another is reestablished and a Countess enters to fill the romantic partner of Einstein.  Her character, much like her outfit, was quite brazen but suited the role she played. 

Acting as a filler for the need of three powerful figures of the 20th century, Charlotte Dabernow Schmendiman (Liz Verdugo) entered the stage. Her role allowed for the perfect amount of slapstick comedy that was needed at a point that one may have considered a little slower.  Verdugo was loud, obnoxious, and geeky. 

Her knack for comedy played a nice contrast with Sagot (Marlon Russ), Picasso's art dealer. Sagot played his role just as car salesman: sleazy and sneaky. 

All in all, the show could only be completed in true comedic fashion.  Enter "a visitor" who bears the odd similarity to Elvis.  The trio of powerful 20th century figures was finally complete.  The King pushes the group over the top through a number of one-liners from the show and ends with a seamless tribute to the stars, both literally and figuratively.   

The cast delivered a well-performed show that kept the audience entertained despite the lack of an intermission, thus proving that the arts and science world could collide.