Steve Martin’s absurdist play arrives on stage in Toronto, courtesy of Seven Siblings Theatre
Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein meet in a Paris bar. Sounds like the set-up for a punch line, right? Intriguingly, Seven Siblings Theatre has staged Picasso at the Lapin Agile in a fully functioning bar. Round and its Kensington Market location is an inspired venue choice: so whimsical, so bohemian! It suits the lofty intentions of Steve Martin’s absurdist comedy, as his characters wrestle with notions of science, art, sex and love.
Einstein is on the cusp of finishing his Special Theory of Relativity, which will rock the scientific community. Picasso is about to shake up the art world with his painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. As they debate, duel and congratulate each other, the bar staff and patrons of the Lapin Agile chime in with their own life experiences and opinions on the twentieth century. And then an unnamed man from the future shows up who is quite obviously Elvis. That’s the sort of play this is.
Will King’s giddy Einstein has an intriguing chemistry with Dylan Evans’ lustful Picasso. Both have a wild-eyed and playful intensity I found charming. The rest of the ensemble are lively and do a fine job of making these characters endearing. They clearly enjoy the material.
While she doesn’t have much stage time, I was particularly fond of Erin Helle’s turn as The Countess, Einstein’s romantic interest for the evening. I found her the most interesting female character in a play dominated by ideas of male achievement. Where the other women seem naively obsessed with Picasso or jaded after an experience with him, the Countess seems to truly enjoy herself on her own terms. She’s giddy in the presence of Einstein, sure, but she’s not fawning or desperate to please. She’s amused and delighted by the opportunity to engage with someone as an equal.
The action of the play is little more than talking and drinking, but the overall affect is quite persuasive due to some very dynamic body language and blocking. Director Erika Downie keeps the momentum up and never wastes any part of the space.
Alas, I’m not a fan of Martin’s script. There are some enchanting moments, but it feels like a handful of bits strung together around a central theme. He presents the twentieth century as a playground for ideas, with art and science as perfect and necessary playmates. And I like that idea, but as a story, I didn’t find it compelling. There is no major conflict and no real stakes.
I chuckled here and there at some of the dialogue, but I found myself frequently bored and grasping for a narrative thread. It was hard for me to invest in characters that represent ideas and only interact to discuss those ideas. Despite the energy and urgency in the delivery, I don’t consider it drama.
Most of the audience was audibly amused though, so it’s my own sensibilities that kept me from really digging this play. I like all the ideas flying around and find some of them quite moving, but I just needed a little more tension.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile is upbeat, and the characters are appealing. If you’re up for 90 minutes of goofy, philosophical rantings sprinkled with cultural references, this will likely satisfy.
- Picasso at the Lapin Agile is playing at Round (152A Augusta Avenue) until February 28th, 2016.
- Shows run Thursday through Sunday at 7:30pm, with a matinee on February 27 at 2pm
- Tickets are $20 the first week, $25 the second week
- Tickets can be purchased on sevensiblingstheatre.ca
Photo of Dylan Evans and Will King provided by the company.