Although “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” was actor-writer-musician Steve Martin’s first play, the 1993 comedy’s wild combination of sex jokes, literary puns and cerebral commentary has made it a theatrical staple, especially here in the Triangle.
Its latest staging at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre makes it seem freshly written through a fine cast and knowing director. The production manages to overcome a significant flaw to supply constant laughter and satisfying entertainment.
Martin imagines a chance meeting in 1904 between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a Paris bar, each not yet famous for their respective geniuses. Einstein is rendezvousing with his current sweetheart, while Picasso comes to scout new female conquests. When talk turns to what they do for a living, their opposite views of life (art vs. science) bring on much discussion and arguing among the customers and barkeeps.
Martin cleverly balances academic in-jokes with traditional comic gags, ranging from the source of inspiration and the beauty of mathematics to bathroom humor and wacky anachronisms. It’s nearly impossible not to enjoy the play, especially with such an engaging cast.
Jonathan King’s nerdy Einstein is delightfully fussy and socially awkward, his comic timing impeccable. David Hudson’s Picasso is suitably intense when discussing his painting process and wickedly randy when stalking the ladies.
Lauren Bamford gives a sardonic edge to barkeep Germaine, charmingly projecting a healthy disdain for men’s advances while asserting her independent intelligence. Kimmy Fiorentino’s love-swept Suzanne, Picasso’s most recent worshiper, is quietly amusing (although often too quietly speaking) but impresses with two other nicely differentiated characters.
Bar regulars include Benoit Sabourin’s hilariously effete art dealer Sagot, Mike Anderson’s wisely witty sexagenarian Gaston and Joey DeSena’s lovably clueless bartender Freddy. Will Harris’ boastful inventor Schmendiman and Tom Barbieri’s surprise visitor from the future round out the cast.
Director Jonathan McCarter gives the play’s farcical elements full sway but ensures the thought-provoking sections on creativity and visions for the future get their proper due. However, the production repeatedly threatens derailment with stretches of limp pacing, the actors given too many pauses and unnecessary crosses. What should be a 90-minute romp goes to 105 minutes here.
Thankfully, the premise and characterizations, along with Allison Dellinger’s abstract set (containing several surprises), make the production easily recommended.
What: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”
Where: North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12, 18-19; 3 p.m. Nov. 13, 20
Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org