Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Walk into a Bar
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Like everything, small theater in Baltimore exists on a continuum. On the one side, you have stages like Single Carrot and the BROS, EMP Collective. They are professional in every way but maybe one or two (budget, location and/or guild status being the common ones). Their shows draw huge crowds, they sport actors illegally moonlighting from Equity, they value technical spectacle and they are on the cutting front edge of the art. One the other, you have places like Salem Players, Jewish Theatre Workshop, Purple Light. They aren’t professional and don’t aspire to be. Their audiences are populated heavily by husbands and church friends, their acting pool is from a true community base and light design is often limited to one switch in the back. They make gentle, solid, crowd-pleasing selections that do not offend. I believe that it is a reviewer’s job to intuit where a company is on this invisible line and judge accordingly – all things are not equal, after all. I often find that, no matter how much I like the glitz, glam and polish of next-to-pro, it’s often these sleeper theaters that end up catching me off guard and delighting me more. That’s how it was with Salem Player’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile. I went in anticipating “not that great” and ended up conceding that this is no lame rabbit. I liked it an eye-opening amount and thought it was better than it had any right to be, because, (and it’s is an unpopular opinion) I’m not all that big a fan of this piece. I know, I know, Steve Martin, national treasure, blah, blah. But I just find this show a little…dorky. It’s a cheesy love letter to the twentieth century and, although it’s funny, I always sort of roll my eyes at it. Paris, 1904, a charming little pub on the edge of space and time run by bartender Freddy (Chris Carothers) and his lady, Germaine (Ashley Gerhardt). In the quintessential joke, Albert Einstein (Harris Allgeier) and Pablo Picasso (Felix Hernandez) both show up to debate their relative significance from which we can conclude the answer is: “very”. Hanging around, also, is Gaston (Scott Graham) who should probably go ahead and get his prostate checked, and Suzanne (Gemma Davimes) a come-hither conquest of Picasso. So sets off a series of comic observations on the cultural sculpture of the last hundred (from 1994, that is) or so years. Science! Art! Commercialism! Cynicism! You get it. I was pretty smitten with the gloriously ringletted Gerhardt as the sassabrass Germaine. I picked up what she was puttin’ down, all right. She’s perfectly in control, knows exactly what she’s doing and was a pleasure to watch. I especially enjoyed a lot of the interaction between her and Carothers, who’s a touch rigid, but still amusingly world-weary as Freddy. Felix Hernandez makes a fab entrance as Picasso and mostly followed through on that initial promise. He brings a rouge swagger and a surprisingly hott gaze to the famously womanizing artiste. I was very drawn to the unspoiled quality of his intensity and no, not just in my pants (but that too – he’s freakin’ pretty and I’m not made of stone). I missed some of the fire in Suzanne – Davimes seemed a little greener than the rest and her baby-voice didn’t carry quite as far – but she heated up when it was time and showed some range. She and Hernandez had a graceful, quiet moment at one point that was very nicely done. Harris Allgeier turns in a serviceable Einstein but I wished he would have had a little more fun with it and really loosened up. He’s best when he’s frustratedly explaining what, to him, are basic concepts and, to everyone else, sounds like gibberish in a foreign language, which is essentially how I viewed any math class I ever had to take. I got a kick out of his famous “pie” monologue, though, even as I worried that the lamb was going to pass right out. Graham’s Gaston is a right cute dirty old man in a beret, which is my favorite kind of dirty old man (there’s just something about a beret, amIright?). And the big-smiled Bennett Remsberg is like a Jack-in-the-Box come to life as poor Schmendiman, the hapless inventor, proving that a small role can be pretty effective in the right hands. This was Daniel Douek’s first time out of the gate directing and I think he did a fine job, myself. He managed to coax some bona fide emotion and depth out of the performers and showed a good sense of what makes a pretty, pleasing picture on stage, which not surprising, as he’s one of my favorite area actors. He stagnated once or twice (those pictures do have to move, after all) and there was a little to much “presentational monologue” going on where actors would come upstage, recite and go back to their places. Overall, though, I’d call it a success. He managed the set design, too, which was pretty enchanting, if by needs constrained. The bar was really nice, maybe I could get him to build one in my house?
BOTTOM LINE: Is this the “best” version of Picasso at the Lapin Agile I have ever seen? No. Is it one of the most charming? Yes. It was cute, captivating and even made me squee a little in places. Solidly anchored, with performances from actors who have a flair for it and just perfect for a Sunday afternoon. A mellow offering from a gentle company that makes ya smile – there are worse things, folks. See it.
Running at Salem Players until October 26th
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