Nik Perleros

On the night I attended Balagan’s performance of Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, there was somewhere behind me, somewhere in the back of the theater, a woman who exploded in loud laughter at even the slightest spot or suggestion of humor in the play. Her laughter was peculiar not only because it was so easily ignited but also because the play itself is not that funny. For sure, Picasso at the Lapin Agile does have funny moments, but much of that humor is undone by the play’s overriding absurdity. Real (or meaty) humor is only possible if the situations or exchanges are grounded in the real. Indeed, humor is a disruption of the ordinary, a break in the continuum of the usual. With Picasso at the Lapin Agile, there can be no such break or disruption because the whole work is unreal, fantastic, absurd. In short, the whole play is a joke: “Einstein and Picasso walk into a bar…”

Support The Stranger

Set in Montmartre, Paris, in the early part of the 20th century, the joke is about an encounter between two major geniuses of the last century. One, Einstein (James Weidman), is waiting for a date; the other, Picasso (Trick Danneker), is trying to get into the pants of every woman in sight. The two do not know each other, but each is certain that his work will have a major impact on the future. Einstein (born 1879) is a young dreamer; Picasso (born 1881) is a young megalomaniac. And then there is Elvis (Mike Dooly), who suddenly appears from the future. There is no point to all of this nonsense, but once in a while something truly amazing is said by one of the two geniuses. For example, Einstein is handed a sketch by Picasso and, after looking at it for a moment, says: “I never thought the 20th century would be handed to me so casually.’’ (The woman in the back did not laugh at these beautiful words.)

Directed by Shawn Belyea, Balagan’s adaptation is simple and for the most part enjoyable. The notable performance is by Ray Tagavilla, whose tone, manner, and facial expressions perfectly realize his character—an orotund art dealer. (Tagavilla begins brilliantly but fades a little at the end of the play/joke.) While leaving the theater, an elderly man behind me made this statement without an air of judgment: “Vintage Steve Martin.” recommended