Student-produced play performed this week

Sara Petersen

Steve Martin script defines term ‘genius’

What if Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein met on Oct. 8, 1904, in Paris, France?

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” written by comedian Steve Martin in 1993, answers that question, as it defines the value genius and tries to predict the 20th century. It also analyzes relationships between individuals, said Bob Russell, director of the student production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Kent State.

This completely fictitious meeting between Picasso and Einstein takes place in a bar called the “Lapin Agile” (a real bar in Paris). Both Einstein and Picasso are on the verge of a breakthrough: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Other characters, who are also real people, add to the two geniuses’ quest for their breakthroughs.

According to the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, the first reading of the play took place in Martin’s home with Tom Hanks reading the role of Picasso and Chris Sarandon reading the role of Einstein. The play then traveled to the Malthouse Theatre in Australia as a nine-day workshop, which ended with two public readings. It then opened in Chicago in Oct. 1994, then ran in Los Angeles and later in New York City.

“(‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’) remains one of the longest running off-Broadway, non-musicals in New York City,” Russell said.

He also said that Martin classifies this piece as an absurdist comedy and is populated with completely off-the-wall bar patrons.

“I never expected something like this … to come out of him. This is just a fantastic piece,” Russell said. “When you first see it, you don’t know what to view it as.”

Freshman theater major Zach Reisig plays the role of Einstein in the student production of this play.

“I was very pleasantly surprised at the first reading of it … and how it was written,” Reisig said. “I really like the message of art and science … at the 20th century.”

Russell, who is also a graduate student, was in the show when he was an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University. He grew to love the show and wanted to direct it himself. He discovered there is an underlying theme of passion that the characters have and wanted to draw it out.

He decided to focus on the theme of this underlying passion to better the show.

“As a director, as actors … it is important that we understand the role that we are storytellers,” Russell said. “It’s not light, but there’s a lot of weight in the show itself, and by focusing on one major theme and finding that one theme that fits interwoven in-between all of the characters really just brings the entire story out and makes it easier to understand as a whole.”

Russell also wanted the show to be grounded in the real world so it would remain funny. The characters are real human beings, Russell said.

The character Freddy was based off of a real person – a bartender in the Lapin Agile named Frédé. Picasso’s “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch” gave way to the character Suzanne, who is one of Picasso’s lovers in the play. And of course, Picasso and Einstein, along with “The Visitor,” are real people.

Martin also used many different theories in the script of the play, and Russell researched everything in the script.

Besides the play being well-researched, accurate and philosophical, Russell said it is very enjoyable.

“Most people who encounter this show, it becomes their favorite show to see because it’s so off-the-wall,” he said. “It is fantastically funny.”

This play is free and opens at 7 p.m. today in Room B005 of the Music and Speech Center. It is approximately an hour and 15 minutes long. It is also playing at noon and 7 p.m. tomorrow and 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“What is genius?” Russell said. “I want the audience to answer that for themselves.”

Contact performing arts reporter Sara Petersen at [email protected].