The premise of PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE, the first fill-length play by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), can be pared down to this: “Einstein and Picasso walk into a bar….” The year is 1904, Pablo Picasso, in his early Blue period, is a few short years from creating Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and Albert Einstein is a little-known physicist on the verge of publishing his Special Theory of Relativity. The two men were contemporaries, practically the same age, but never hung out, as far as anyone knows. But what if they did — two of the 20th Century’s most influential geniuses — just for one night, in their 20s? And what if it was somehow captured by one of the (later) century’s comic geniuses?
I’ll say this: The Wilmington Drama League does not back down from a challenge. PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE is, even with its sex jokes and bathroom gags, an extremely sophisticated play that is probably more difficult to pull off than any play I’ve seen in the last couple of years. It plays with surrealism, anachronism (some of the references didn’t even exist when the original play was written in 1993), and tearing down the fourth wall. The carefully-cast leads, Jumbo Schimpf as Einstein (a first-timer at the WDL who is a veteran of the Philadelphia stage, touring shows, and is probably best known in Wilmington as the director of the musical 112 Large at the 2010 Fringe Wilmington Festival) and area stage regular Timothy Sheridan as Picasso, are spot on, never missing a beat — and they absolutely have to be for it to work.
It’s not all about Einstein and Picasso, though. The setting is a bar, tended by Freddy (Edward Elder) and Germaine (Kathy Buterbaugh). There aren’t many others patrons, but those that are there serve specific purposes: Gaston (Mike Vuccola), an old man who’s not quite used to being old, Suzanne (Erica Negron), a beautiful Picasso groupie, Sagot (Andrew Chambless), an art dealer, and The Countess (Katie Brady), the object of Einstein’s affection. Then there is Schmendimen, played by Wayne Meadows, WDL veteran and TV’s “Amazing Race” alum, who steals scenes here and there as the brash, attention-demanding inventor who believes he will shape the 20th Century (and, in a metaphoric way, he isn’t entirely wrong). This is a show where you every actor is actively acting whether he or she is center stage or not, and none of the actors lost sight of that.
The final character is billed as “A Visitor,” played by Jackson Borges. While the character is never named in the play, the audience will recognize who he is instantly. I won’t give it away, but Borges plays him perfectly.
Is WDL’s LAPIN AGILE successful? I have to say yes, thanks in part to the standout performances of Schimpf and Chambless (who are perfectly suited for this type of comedy), the uncanny Borges, and the rockstar charm of Sheridan. Is it perfect? Not quite. The play requires impeccable timing and delivery, which wasn’t 100% consistent throughout, and a small amount of physical comedy that didn’t quite work. Still, LAPIN AGILE is a great comic play and worth catching.