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Picasso at the Lapin Agile

The Steve Martin play at the Old Globe, San Diego

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar. That’s the setup; “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is the extended, absurdist punchline.

Set in Paris in 1904, Freddy (Donald Faison) is getting the bar ready for business. He is joined by Gaston (Hal Linden), a grouchy regular, and Albert Einstein (Justin Long). This young, pre-relativity Einstein has no lack of confidence, but he still can’t get promoted at the patent office.

They are soon joined by Germaine (Luna Velez), Freddy’s wife and colleague, and Suzanne (Liza Lapira), one of Picasso’s paramours, hoping for a repeat performance.

The talk swiftly turns to Picasso. Who is he? What has he done? Is he as good as he thinks he is? What’s he like in bed? Then, on cue, Picasso (Philippe Bowgen) shows up and the night can really begin.

The play thrives on its characters. Freddy is a warm, good natured but competitive bar keep. Einstein is aware of his brilliance but still isn’t quite sure how to translate that into success. Picasso is the charming friend whose arrogance you tolerate. And because it’s 1904, the women get to be foils for the men.

When your baseline is Faison, Linden and Long, it’s virtually impossible to avoid big laughs. Faison’s physicality is a joy to watch (as it was on Scrubs). The interaction between Long’s Einstein and Bowgen’s Picasso – penis measuring, but the amiable kind – are both hilarious and endearing. Sagot (Ron Orbach), Picasso’s art dealer, adds an element of spry energy.
And then there’s Schmendiman (Marcel Spears).

Charles Dabernow Schmendiman – the name alone is homage to Mel Brooks – is a joyous nincompoop and Spears gets every bit of him. His time in the Lapin Agile is not much longer than this mention but it completes the play.

Despite occasionally bogging down in the show’s deeper thoughts, Barry Edelstein’s direction is on point and keeps the laughs rolling. The well-crafted set evokes a respectable, but slightly seamy, drinking establishment.

Though some of the surprises are a little odd, the play holds together nicely and delivers some great laughs. This cast could read a tax return and make it hilarious.

Donald Faison as Freddy, Justin Long as Albert Einstein, Luna Veléz as Germaine, and Philippe Bowgen as Pablo Picasso in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, by Steve Martin, directed by Barry Edelstein

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