One of the principle, if generally unstated, beliefs held by theatergoers everywhere is that it shouldn't be more enjoyable to read a play than to see it performed. And yet, stunningly, Arts Equity has managed to make it so. On paper, Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a little piece of heaven for English majors, history buffs, and trivia nerds. Onstage at Arts Equity, it's 90 minutes you'll never get back—and they somehow manage to make it feel twice that long.
An imagined meeting of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a Paris bar at the beginning of the 20th century, Picasso is an absurdly silly but sharp little script that revolves entirely around its bizarre cast of characters. These characters, who will become larger than life in the years to come, are poised at the dawn of the new century, surveying the possibilities in their own lives and all around them. As is to be expected in a Steve Martin script, they do so with great verbal flair and occasionally ridiculous silliness. Martin's choice to set the play at the bar Lapin Agile was not an accident. Loosely translated, Lapin Agile means "nimble rabbit." The play, like the bar in which it is set, should be light on its feet, quick in action, and at all turns, exciting.
Director Llewellyn Rhoe seems to have entirely misunderstood the heart of the script, guiding his cast to make terrible choices about their characters. His dull and lifeless interpretation of this play is staggering in its relentless refusal to be engaging. Glacial pacing, awkward staging, and severe casting mistakes are topped off with a slew of hackneyed accents that often render the actors unintelligible. Most of the cast appears to be lost, flailing helplessly through their lines. Even a strong, eloquently understated performance by David Hudkins as Freddy, the bar owner, can't overcome this mishmash of overdrawn caricatures.
Until another company comes along that can get it right, this is a play that will need to be read in order to be appreciated. Pick it up at your local bookstore and give it a spin. It's a great, lively read.