October 20, 2006

Liquor, Sex and Lots of Laughs

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This week and next week, the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance presents a night of laughter with the witty comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin. The second show of the season, Picasso lightens things up after the kickoff performance, All My Sons. The play takes place in the bar The Lapin Agile in 1904, frequented by “artist types” such as Picasso and in this case, Einstein. Directed by Stephen Cole and staring both students and Equity Actors (RPTAs), the show is a belligerent night of intelligent humor, if you can imagine such a thing.
Many people don’t realize that, in addition to being a comedian and actor, Steve Martin is a playwright and an author. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is his first full-length play, and his book, The Shopgirl, was awarded the Mark Twain Humorist Award in the fall of 2005. It has also been released as a major motion picture. Like his humor on screen, his writing is smart, quirky and full of irresistible puns and one-liners. It is an enormously fun piece of writing and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile is “a play on the meaning of genius, the source of creative inspiration and how art and science have affected the 20th century,” says Director Stephen Cole. It shows how great art and great science are alike in their demand for beauty and spontaneity by imagining a meeting between painter Pablo Picasso (Ansel Brasseur ’08) and Scientist Albert Einstein (Mike Ladd ’07). They join and engage in philosophical discussions between the bar tender, waitress and other bohemian characters (Alex Herald ’07, Ashten Waks ’10, Ellen Hada ’07 and John Schaub ’07) that frequent the establishment, bringing enlightening opinions and plenty of humor to the scene.
Aside from their genius, these two figureheads of art and science have something else in common. They love women. They can’t get enough of them. And by the end of this play, the importance of sex in the creative process is blatantly obvious. The first woman to enter the scene is Germaine (Christine Bullen ’08), a sassy, sexy waitress at the bar who has a response for everything. She is evidently sleeping with the bartender, Freddy (Harlan Work ’07). The next woman to stir things up in the Lapin Agile is Suzette (Allison Buck ’09), a young woman who hopes to run into her past lover, Picasso, and emphatically describes his genius on paper and off it. Germaine later accuses both Picasso and Einstein of using their genius to attract women, and although they deny it, everyone else can see that the statement holds truth. But it’s not just these geniuses that have an affinity for the ladies. Gaston (Ed Schiff, RPTA) can’t stop talking about sex. That and his bladder problem are about all he thinks of. This very quirky group of characters provide for very lively and stimulating conversation, in more ways than one.
The play isn’t just fun for an audience — the cast also had fun playing with Steve Martin’s words. Ansel Brasseur ’08 describes why he liked playing this version of Picasso: “He’s historically and hysterically charming. Typically we think of him in terms of his later works at an older age, and in this play I got to explore and imagine his beginnings and his quirky youth.” Picasso does a wonderful job of making art analysis and scientific theories laughing matters. Who would have though that Einstein’s theories of the universe would have people in stitches? Steve Martin, apparently, found them pretty funny, and now you will too.
In addition to having a great script to work with, the cast was made up of skillful and very funny actors. Charles Stransky (RPTA), who played the art dealer Sagot, said his favorite part of working on the play was “discovering the humor, the moments that made us laugh with one another.” He went on to say, “The student actors were great. They are so talented.” The students say the same thing of their fellow cast members. Christine Bullen ’08 says, “Working with such a great group of people is such a treat. They aren’t afraid to have fun and make fools of themselves.” This playfulness and good humor comes out onstage when all these characters get together to spend a night discussing sex and philosophy over plenty of alcohol.
So why should people at Cornell go see it? “It’s funny. It makes people laugh,” says Charles Stransky, “it’s got a lot of sexy humor in it.” Picasso at the Lapin Agile is playing October 18-22 and 25-28 at 8 p.m. Matinees will be offered at 2 p.m. on October 22, 28-29, and there will be a post-show discussion with the cast on October 26. You can buy tickets at the Schwartz Center Box Office (open 12:30-5:30), or call 607-254-ARTS. Tickets are $8 (students/seniors) and $10 (general admission).
Christine Bullen says it best: “It’s great for college students because we like sex and we like drinking and we like laughing. What could be better than all three at once?”