Fast-paced Steve Martin-penned play is a Work of Art

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 12:00am
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Nate Eppler, Kay Ayers-Sowell and Wilhelm Peters in Picasso at the Lapin Agile now on stage at Boiler Room Theatre.

There’s a great bit in the opening moments of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, now on stage at the Boiler Room Theatre.

An eccentric young patent examiner named Albert Einstein wanders into the Lapin Agile, a charming Parisian café and patiently explains that he is supposed to meet the Countess at another bar across town. But since she is just as eccentric as he is, he has decided that she’s bound to show up somewhere else — so why not here?

Such nutty logic may seem to reflect Einstein’s particular brand of genius. But it also applies to the playwright, a brilliant comedian known for his quirky, cerebral brand of humor.

In Picasso at the Lapin Agile, we meet both Einstein and an aspiring young artist named Pablo Picasso. Set in 1904 — just before the renowned physicist published his theory of relativity and the celebrated painter set the world on its ear with cubism – this absurdist piece asks what might have happened if the two had met when they were right on the verge of their greatest discoveries.

The result, of course, is quite entertaining – an exploration of fame, talent and genius that is alternately profound and nonsensical. Picasso at the Lapin Agile was Martin’s first comedy for the stage, and it smacks of his early stand-up routines with colorful characters and crackling dialogue.

Take, for example, the wonderful scene in which the lovely Suzanne recounts an impetuous encounter with the hot-blooded Picasso. “The word ‘no’ became like a Polish village,” she gasps. “...unpronounceable.”

Director Laura Skaug does a fine job managing Martin’s sometimes frenzied pace. Nate Eppler is an absolute delight as the young Einstein, and Wilhelm Peters plays Picasso with just the right blend of bravado and insecurity. Of course, the two receive ample support from a seasoned and savvy cast, including Kay Ayers-Sowell, Mike Baum, Douglas Goodman, Alan Lee, Patrick Reilly, Jennifer Richmond and Lane Wright.

And like an unseen puppet master, Martin is present throughout, toying with the audience, bending time and space to maximize the laughs. Like the main characters in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Martin reminds us that we sometimes have to push boundaries in order to achieve our dreams.

What: Picasso at the Lapin Agile
When: 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursday (July 23), Fridays and Saturdays now through July 25, 2 p.m. Sunday (July 12)
Where: The Boiler Room Theatre at the Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Road, Building Six
Cost: $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and college students, $19 for children ages 3 to 12. Matinee prices are $2 less, respectively. All Tuesday shows are two-for-one, and “Thrifty Thursday” shows are $15.
Info: 794-7744, boilerroomtheatre.com