Picasso and Einstein are together at last in ‘Lapin’

The title “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” doesn’t exactly ring with comedy. Yet author Steve Martin, both the “father of the bride” and a “wild and crazy guy,” has written an imaginative and, yes, hilarious play. The play is set in a bar in Paris in 1904. One name is on everyone’s lips: Picasso. A motley crew gathers at the Lapin Agile, some only for their regular nightcap and others hoping to be visited by the young and dashing painter. Among them are the bartender and his wife, a cantankerous old man with a bladder problem, a feisty art dealer and one of Picasso’s smitten lovers. Another visitor loiters near the bar: an unknown physicist named Albert Einstein who hopes to publish his first book, “The Special Theory of Relativity.”

Cap and Bells’s production brings all these characters to life and produces the same zany dynamic one would expect from a room full of geniuses and drunks. Though the play dragged at first, the actors settled into their roles quickly and learned to play up Steve Martin’s distinctive brand of humor. Jim Prevas ’06 perfected the physicality and voice of the crude and crusty Gaston. Alex Gordon ’04 also brought flourish and gusto to his character, Schmendiman, the garrulous inventor whose “inflexible and very brittle building material. . .made of equal parts asbestos, kitten paws and radium” would change the world.

The bartender, Freddy, and his wife, Germaine – Nikhar Gaikwad ’06 and Alana Whitman ’05 – made a sassy pair. Gaikwad was the properly skeptical husband to his vampish, smooth-talking wife. Whitman’s sensual Germaine was likeable as well.

Cyndi Wong ’04 played the wounded Suzanne, a woman helplessly taken with Picasso. Her character, the most serious and human, gave the play a depth many comedies lack. Amy Shelton ’05, who played the fast-talking art dealer Sagot, captured the attitude of a shrewd businesswoman.

As Pablo Picasso, Tim Crawley ’05 exuded the serene confidence of an artistic genius. Though he skillfully conveyed the heavy, philosophical points of the play, it was his vain posturing that brought Picasso to life. Likewise, the Albert Einstein of Marcos Sahm ’04 was both believable and hilarious. His presence raised the energy on stage. In one saucy interaction, Einstein says to Picasso, “Maybe you’re an idiot savant. . .minus the savant.” Stephen Dobay ’05 anachronistically continued the long and glorious tradition of Elvis impersonators as “the Visitor,” the third genius in the trinity. Judging from the smooth swivel-force of Dobay’s hip gyrations, it appeared that he had logged many hours of practice.

Director Craig Iturbe ’04 put together a marvelous crew of actors who captured the excitement of new discoveries and the very absurdity of the play’s premise. In this fictional meeting of geniuses, there are more puns and pranks than philosophy. At the height of the theoretical debate between Einstein and Picasso, Germaine brings it all into focus: “You two are spouting a lot of bulls— and I say the only reason you two got into physics and art in the first place is to meet girls.”