Picasso at the Lapin Agile Review – A Rollicking Debate

Isaac J. Cruz as Picasso and Ryan Stiffelman as Einstein in PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE - Photo by Khue Cai
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Penned by Steve Martin – actor, comedian, writer, producer, musician, modest recipient of multiple awards – PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE opens at the Ruskin Theatre. Following readings at his home and a workshop in Australia, Martin’s first full-length play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 1993, followed shortly thereafter by performances at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles and, eventually, Broadway. Now the play has returned to Los Angeles to tease and delight audiences anew.

Cast of PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE – Photo by Khue Cai

The time is 1904, and the place is Paris. The scene is the Lapin Agile, a local pub and meeting place for the yet unknown and sometimes even the nearly famous in the heart of Montmartre, an artists’ colony where struggling creators in all fields meet, compare notes, and definitely drink up a storm. This day is no exception, and colorful artists of all talents wend their way into the district’s multiple bars. But this day might also be exceptional – because on this day two creative, free-thinking men, both on the precipice of greatness, meet and share their deepest thoughts about life and the creative process.

J. Teddy Garces, Amy Motta, and Jackson Glenn – Photo Khue Cai

Albert Einstein (Ryan Stiffelman) has come to the Lapin Agile hoping to bump in someone he has heard about in his wanderings, a painter named Pablo Picasso (Isaac J. Cruz). Both men are in their 20s – and only a few years from making a noticeable dent in the world of science and art. In 1905, Einstein will introduce his theory of relativity, while in 1907, Picasso will create Les Demoiselles d”Avignon, his foray into the new art form of cubism. Both will soon wow the world – and the play is just cosmic moments away from their life-altering contributions. The two young men begin their debate over the value of genius vs. talent and soon get into what it takes to excel and open new doors in their specialties, art (Picasso) and science (Einstein) – so different, and yet maybe not so different. Soon the pub is filled with opinions – and people to voice them loudly – including Gaston (Fred Deni), Freddy (J Teddy Garces), Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Hudson Long), Sagot (Jack Merrill), Germaine (Amy Motta), and Suzanne/the Countess/female admirer (Ashley Barrett). When “the Visitor” (Jackson Glenn) arrives in his blue suede shoes, things may heat up even more.

Isaac J. Cruz, Fred Deni, Amy Motta, and Ashley Barrett – Photo by Khue Cai

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE is a delightful tale of “what-ifs” which will charm, entertain, create some belly laughs, and also raise some serious philosophical questions. Helmed by skilled director Amelia Mulkey, the play speeds through the story with nary a moment to waste. While at its heart the content might seem rather intellectual, Mulkey and the excellent cast manage of keep things moving – and the audience laughing and following along with them. The ensemble cast and the director clearly “get it” and make sure that the audience members do too.

J. Teddy Garces, Jack Merrill, Isaac J. Cruz, Amy Motta, and Fred Deni – Photo by Khue Cai

Kudos are also in order to a superb production crew. Ryan Wilson’s set is lush, detailed, and a real treat for the eyes. You almost feel that you’re part of the turn-of-the-century bar crowd. Michael Mullen’s gorgeous costumes are another visual treat and add to the feel of the early twentieth century. Edward Salas’ lighting and sound make this intimate production glow. But at the heart of any production is the script – and Steve Martin exhibited his obvious talent to a tee with the able assistance of director Mulkey and the talented ensemble cast. This is a not-to-be-missed production which will fully activate the synapses connecting your eyes, ears, and thinking mind.

Ryan Stiffelman and Ashley Barrett – Photo by Khue Cai

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE runs through April 30, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (with ample free parking). Tickets range from $20 to $35 (seniors/students/Guild members $5 off; groups of 8+ $28). For information and reservations, call 310-397-3244 or go online.


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