Picasso at the Lapin Agile February 7 & 8, 8 p.m., $20. Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin takes a meta look at the 20th century, imagining Einstein and Picasso in a Parisian bar at the start of the 1900s, just before they transformed the world. SRO Productions gets the humor and ideas right, but ultimately stumbles with its heart.
This show has fun with the conventions of theater—one early joke revolves around a waitress being late and her boss (and lover) referencing the cast list in the program. It’s a sly move, and the production finds humor throughout the night in a similar vein, playing on what we think we know about Einstein, Picasso and the times. Yet after a while these jokes come at the expense of exploring the actual emotions of the play.
When Picasso (played by Michael Forsch) makes a play for the waitress Germaine (Rebecca Kernes), their relationship gets a nod, but only after barman Freddy (Tony K. Parham) turns the subtext into literal text. In the subtler moments the actors aren’t helped by director Rob Routin’s blocking, which is full of motion but doesn’t help elucidate relationships, and key moments which should bubble up get lost in the movement.
The actors are alternately freed and hampered by the weight of their historical (or not) roles. James Moniz (the old Frenchman Gaston) and Shane Scott Sather (Charles Dabernow Schmendiman) practically steal the show as outrageous characters with no easy historical analog. When Forsch carries on rapturously as Picasso and Arik Cunningham geeks out as Einstein, things work well, but their accents affect their delivery in normal scenes, dropping Picasso down a gear or two and muffling Einstein’s quips. And Erick Guilfuchi as the third in a triumvirate of stars never looks comfortable onstage, with what should have been an incredibly charismatic character, “the visitor,” coming out flat and robbing the finale of some of its sparkle.
In the end this fizzing brew on the transformative power of ideas and art feels less like drinking stars and more like soda—sweet and bubbly, if not as rapturous.