Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
You know you’re in for a swell time when you’re given the total immersion treatment prior to a performance — a lavish bar space that is reminiscent of a cabaret lounge with red-cushioned booth seats and carved wooden tables, epochal paintings, classical violin music, dimmed candle lights, food and beverage catering, and the cast and crew mingling and getting everyone settled (in character). Seven Siblings, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve officially set the standard for bar play hospitality.
What follows next is an exhilarating journey full of hope and frustration into a realm where two worlds collide — the sciences and the arts — all while new ideas and movements are emerging through the howling winds of change.
Change is a really big deal in this play, because Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which was written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), takes us to the moment before history as we know it, depicting what might have been a likely conversation between two geniuses that had never actually met in their lifetimes, the scientist Albert Einstein (Will King) and the painter Pablo Picasso (Dylan Evans).
What I find so fascinating about this script is how closely Martin clearly studied these influential figures in order to figure out not what sets them apart, but what makes them a lot more similar to each other than we realize. The whole point is to show us how their disciplines necessarily converge in order to evolve their perceptions of their crafts. In turn, this evolution is important to change in all aspects of life, because it eliminates what is no longer working to make way for groundbreaking developments in thought and creation that affect everyone in one way or another.
Surprisingly, however, their conversations with each other are quite minimal when compared to their interactions with other colourful characters at the Lapin Agile, such as Freddy (Dylan Mawson), Gaston (Jamie Johnson), Germaine (Madryn McCabe), Sagot (Erik Helle), and Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Andrew Gaunce). Some are sleazy; others are cynical, though it’s safe to say that they’re all enjoyably quirky. King and Johnson, however, delivered my favourite performances.
King as Einstein is a classy geek, effortlessly outsmarting the others at the bar with his legs crossed and a cigarette in hand, though that doesn’t stop him from getting gleefully excited like a little schoolboy whenever he and Picasso reach an intellectual epiphany. One nitpick I have is that his accent sounds a little less German and more like a cross between French and Russian, though I give it a pass because it sounded admittedly adorable. Johnson as Gaston is a practitioner of perfect punch lines, and dashes of dark humour.
Speaking of humour, to which Martin is obviously no stranger, we are treated to the perfect blend of styles, such as the aforementioned dark humour and punch lines, in addition to irony and a myriad of different jokes (expect a considerable breakage of the fourth wall) and puns. The comedy works so well here because some of the jokes can be understood right away, while others are meant to settle in and make you think about them for a bit.
The actors’ comedic expressions when they react to one another in disgust, surprise or bafflement are even more hilarious than what they might say. It’s the small touches that bring the zing to a performance.
The costumes flawlessly capture 20th century France, complete with the iconic horizontal striped shirts and bell-bottoms, espadrille shoes, crewneck sweaters with suits, and long flowing gowns usually in either pastel or light colours, among other vintage wear.
Most of the scenes are energetic and playful, and our two leads are believably passionate. However, there were several instances when I felt the actors fell a little too quiet and things got a little too atmospheric for a show like this.
I also wish that the actors as a whole interacted a little more with the audience during the actual performance, although both King and Evans (and his flirtatious tendencies) really took initiative on that front.
In addition, there were times where characters didn't react to one another quite how I thought they would. Suzanne's reaction to seeing her lover Picasso again after two weeks for example was underwhelming, though I get that she's supposed to be cross with him for forgetting about her.
Rest assured, these are only minor critiques that can easily be fine-tuned. They won’t stop you from having some great fun while learning a few things along the way.
Directed by Erika Downie, Picasso at the Lapin Agile runs until Feb. 28 at the ROUND venue. For more information visit http://www.sevensiblingstheatre.ca/#picasso.
Read our interview with Erika Downie here.