Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is reminiscent of another comical Steve — Allen — and his “Meeting of Minds” some years past. Both are quite entertaining, but ultimately more intellectually stimulating than out-and-out funny.
Martin’s “Picasso,” now on stage at the Huntington Beach Playhouse, is a study in “what-if,” a chance meeting between two great minds at the outset of their careers — Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. They’re surrounded by a coterie of quirky characters in this Parisian tavern who ultimately enhance the play’s enjoyment.
Director Terri Miller Schmidt has assembled a fine cast for what its author intended as “a slowed-down” play that “will be played like farce because it will be played like a drama.”
In Martin’s concept, light years removed from his arrow-through-the-head standup comedy, the two main characters meet in Paris’ Lapin Agile in 1904, both on the cusp of greatness. But rather than become antagonists, each comes to appreciate the other’s budding genius.
Einstein is played as the ultimate numbers man, a fellow who takes a half hour or so to comprehend a simple joke, by Steven Jones, who illuminates the great mathematician with his instant answers to complex numerical problems.
Cruz Flores enacts Picasso as an excitable artist driven by his unquenchable libido as he attempts to seduce every woman he encounters. Yet he displays an endearing gift for condescension as the need arises.
Difficult as it might be to upstage either or both of these young geniuses, Skip Blas pulls it off brilliantly as an aging Frenchman with an eye (but little else) for youthful beauty and a nagging bladder problem. Blas turns in the performance of the evening in a role more reminiscent of a virulent Maurice Chevalier.
Karl Schott is splendid as the philosophical bartender, and Bethany Hamrick cutely renders his lusty waitress. John Gillies and Kendall Burdett deliver ebullient performances as a pair of lesser but louder luminaries.
Time travel comes into play as Victor Cocchiaro appears as a “king” from the future. Melissa David doubles nicely as a countess and the visitor’s young admirer.
Marty Eckmann’s tavern setting is itself a work of art, richly decorated by Andrew Otero, who also created the fine period costumes. Jon Hyrkas’ lighting design, especially in the latter moments, is highly impressive.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is that rarity in the theater, an intellectual comedy, and it’s given a splendid interpretation at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.
If You Go
What: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”
Who: Huntington Beach Playhouse
Where: Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 7
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (714) 375-0696