Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar.
It’s not the beginning of a punchline, it’s the start of an evening of laughter and ideas for the future over drinks.
In “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” comedian turned playwright (sic) Steve Martin shows us what might have happened if these two giants of the 20th century walked into the same bar in Paris in 1904. It’s plausible since both men were alive in Europe during the same period. The Lapin Agile is an actual bar in Paris that still exists today. During the first decade of the twentieth century, it was a second home to many artists and Pablo Picasso himself spent untold hours there.
A year after this imaginary bar scene, Einstein publishes “The Special Theory of Relativity,” and three years later Picasso paints his piece “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.” Both of these are revolutionary works that change the worlds of physics and art. In the play, Steve Martin uses the dialogue between Picasso and Einstein to demonstrate that they both attempt to imagine what no one has imagined before. Art and science are both methods of exploring ideas of space and time beyond everyday perceptions.
One more 20th-century icon joins them at the bar. I won’t spoil the surprise by saying who, but to me the choice of the third giant comes off as a cheap joke. It was still funny, but a bit tacky. However, I don’t have any suggestions for an alternative. I can’t think of anyone else from the century who is one-name famous besides Hitler, but I wouldn’t want to bring him into a comedy show.
The Alley Theatre’s cast selection for the young Picasso and Einstein is perfect. Joseph Castillo-Midyett’s portrayal of Picasso as the drunk, womanizing, vain prodigy is so real that it will probably be the way I picture him from now on. Dylan Godwin plays Albert Einstein as an awkwardly endearing nerd and math wizard.
Elizabeth Bunch plays Germaine, who modeled for artists back in the day. I appreciate how Steve Martin gives us a strong and dynamic female character with Germaine in a story that’s otherwise dominated by men. She confidently speaks her mind, even in heated debates in a room full of men.
Melissa Pritchett plays three roles, each character is a groupie for one of the male figures in the play. Switching from a racy mademoiselle to a haughty countess and a fan-girling school child in one performance shows Pritchett’s talent. Without reading the Playbill, you may not notice that the same actress played all three characters.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is showing through June 3 at the Alley Theatre downtown. With a valid student ID, tickets are $16 for non-prime performances and $26 for prime performances (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees). If purchasing online, use the promo code STUDENT.