by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
The Foundation Academy presented four performances (November 17-20) of comedian Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile on its campus on San Pablo Road in Jacksonville. Martin is best known for the many funny movies he has starred in such as The Jerk, Parenthood and The Pink Panther, to name a few. The play debuted in 1993, was quite popular in the 90s, and has, in fact, been done at least two times by local theatre groups in the past.
The play is set in Paris in 1904 in a small Montmartre bar named The Lapin Agile (translation: the nimble rabbit) and is centered on a fictional meeting of scientist Albert Einstein and painter Pablo Picasso, both of whom have yet to become famous.
Einstein, played with wonderful energy and wild hair by Zach Pridgen, is there to meet a lady, The Countess (Megan Vanway), and spouts some of his ideas that will become part of the his work on relativity, his most famous and sensational contribution to theoretical physics. He is introduced to Pablo Picasso, played with an insolent swagger by Melvin Reynolds. The 23-year-old artist is three years away from completing “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon,” a controversial and influential work that revolutionized modern art. In the evenings, Picasso is a frequent visitor to the bar and a confirmed womanizer. One of his many women, Suzanne (Jacqueline Logan), a lover of a couple of weeks ago, has wandered into the bar looking for her lover boy.
Martin has loaded this play with crazy characters, like the weird inventor Charles Schmendiman (Bobby McKenzie), who has invented a building material made of equal parts of kitten paws, radium and asbestos. Josh Santora played Sagot, Picasso’s wheeling and dealing art dealer. Latoya Houston did a cameo role as a female admirer who enters the bar and mistakes Picasso for the man she is looking for, Mr. Schmendiman. Nick Vogler was Gaston, an old man who apparently was a bar regular, needed frequent prostate-related visits to the men’s room, and enjoyed interrupting the conversations of others.
The two most “normal” characters are the owner and bartender, Freddy (Nick “Ross” Augustini), and his waitress girlfriend, Germaine (Tasia Dupree), who proved to be very intelligent as she made dean-on predictions about the 20th century in a short monologue. The final character (Jason Cremer) was a self-possessed visitor from the future who is never named, but is a singer from Memphis, Tennessee, with thick black hair and sideburns.
One of the highlights of the play was the set by Technical Director and Set Designer Jim Lynch, who was aided by the Tech Theatre students. The bar was comfortable, if slightly seedy, with a black and white tiled floor, typical tables and chairs, and interesting paintings on the walls.
Director Madaline Hill designed the colorful costumes that included a tweed jacket for Einstein, a sailor’s pullover for Picasso, and very Parisienne lace blouses with long flared skirts for the women.
Walter Hill, as Audio/Visual Technical Director, together with Videography students created a wonderful pre-show presentation, with a montage of iconic artwork of the era that was augmented by the wonderful songs of famous French singer Edith Piaf.
All the actors, performing characters much older than themselves, did a creditable job of creating interesting characters. This script went from humorous moments to some very serious moments of discussion. (After all, the theory of relativity is heavy stuff.)
Foundation’s choice of this play is interesting. We have seen a number of their productions, and most of the plays selected in the past were accessible to all the students of this K-12 school. Picasso at the Lapin Agile was more for the top four grades. We could not imagine a parent bringing, say, a fourth-grader to see it. A one-page study guide for the students, as well as the parents, would have been helpful, since the time of Einstein and Picasso is long past and not well known to modern audiences.
We have to agree with Director Hill’s program notes when she writes that her cast handled the sophisticated material with amazing maturity. The result was an ambitious project that certainly provided opportunity for growth to the participating actors.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile
by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom