Saturday, February 17, 2007

Everyone should gather at ‘Lapin Agile’

Published in The News Tribune, February 16th, 2007

The Midnight Sun is a tiny performance space that is home to excellent but mostly ignored theater of the fringe variety.

At opening night of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” there were no more than a dozen people in attendance. That means a lot of people are missing out on a play that, if anybody actually saw it, would be all the buzz at work the next day.

“Picasso” was written by the multitalented standup comic and actor Steve Martin. It is an intelligent comedy set in the Lapin Agile, an actual bar in Paris. Pablo Picasso (Jon Tallman) and Albert Einstein (Brian Jansen) meet in the bar. Theirs is a clash of giant egos. The year is 1904, a year before Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and three years before Picasso’s revolutionary painting “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.” (At the moment he is just about fed up with blue and is about to enter his rose period.) These two giants argue over the relative importance of their genius but come back to earth just long enough to confess that the real reason they do what they do is to get girls. (At this point they are more successful as womanizers than as artist and scientist.)

Eventually they decide that they represent two points in a triangle of genius – art and science. They declare that they are the future, destined to revolutionize the world in the new century. But who will be the third point in the triangle? A self-important, blowhard inventor named Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Robert McConkey) claims that honor, but he’s a nobody. Then a visitor from the future shows up and reveals the truth: the third point in the triad is love, and he is the natural embodiment of love. This mysterious visitor is never named.

Maybe Martin didn’t want anybody to know who he was, at least not ahead of his appearance on stage. But he has been identified in previous reviews, so I might as well spill the beans: The visitor is none other than Elvis (played with great sneering presence by Josh Anderson).

The Lapin Agile is a hangout for all kinds of interesting eccentrics, including the bartender, Freddy (Tim Goebel), and the lusty waitress, Germaine (Elizabeth Lord), and a philosophical but sex-obsessed barfly named Gaston (Keith Eisner), who has a severe prostate problem.

Overall, the cast is excellent, although McConkey and Tallman tend to be a little over the top. McConkey’s character, Schmendiman, is obnoxious and overbearing, so his histrionics would be excusable if the space were not so small. But it’s hard to take that much shouting when the audience is seated practically in the lap of the actors. I also have a big problem with the casting of Tallman because of his physical appearance. He is tall and slim, with shoulder-length hair. Picasso was short, with a barrel chest and, at that point in his life, short hair.

Lord does a great job as the lusty barmaid. Eisner is entertaining; his timing is great. Anderson is hilarious. Jansen is outstanding. And the writing is witty and innovative. You can’t go wrong by seeing this play.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 24
WHERE: The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St., Olympia
TICKETS: $7-$15 sliding scale at the door; $10 plus $1 service fee at

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