Einstein, Picasso and Elvis walk into a bar. While this may sound like the opening to a joke, it’s not. One could be forgiven for thinking that. It’s the premise behind legendary funny man Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapine Agile. This March 20th, the Virtual Studio Players showed how serious they are about comedy. They performed the play for an internet audience.
The VSP production team of Artistic Director Greg Norman and Technical Director Peter Artale once again produced a creative and visual masterpiece. The backgrounds well suited a gathering at an early twentieth century Paris bar. A gilded hue covered the walls. The shading added a sense of elegance to the establishment. One could imagine luminaries such as Picasso and Einstein gathering at such a location.
Mr. Artale included some of Picasso’s paintings in the opening montage. The images provided insights into the mind of the character who created them.
Paris’ Lapine Agile became a popular place on the evening of October 8, 1904. The proprietor/bartender Freddy (played by Brian Wayman) conversed with Gaston (Greg Northam); a regular with salacious interests and a frequent need to use the rest room. A newcomer to the establishment named Einstein (Sam Dressler) entered. After waitress Germaine (Melissa Davenport) arrived, a young lady named Suzanne (Gianna Porfano) joined the crowd. She planned to meet a gentleman with whom she’d had a brief affair; the painter Pablo Picasso (Anthony Paparo).
Other quirky characters visited the bar that evening, as well. They included a Countess (Annette Devitt) who admired Einstein, Picasso’s art dealer Sagot (E. Dale Smith-Gallo), and an inventor of a new building material, Charles Schmendiman (Alex Luckenbaugh). Later, a time travelling American musician known as The Visitor (Nicholas Renna) appeared.
This unusual set-up presented the performers with opportunities to flex their histrionic muscles. The actors made each role into an engaging one.
During the show, Einstein commented that, “Inspiration is the highest form of research.” Sam Dressler’s performance made it seem relative. Perhaps, stirred by this observation, Mr. Dressler applied his own brand of comedic genius to the role of the physicist. He unified the figure’s high-minded brilliance through the way he fielded his lines, but that’s just a theory. His pedantic explanation of a joke regarding a pie in the shape of a letter e showed the character’s keen intellect. He responded at the speed of light when Mr. Wayman asked mathematical questions that included word problems.
Anthony Paparo enacted both Picasso’s arrogance and his charm. He gestured emphatically while speaking in a French accent. In one memorable exchange Ms. Porfano became offended when he didn’t recognize her at the bar. She accused him of lying to her during their earlier encounter. Mr. Paparo replied with a nonchalance that revealed the character’s nature. “I meant everything I said that night. I couldn’t remember who I said it to.”
Greg Northam’s character noted, “Put two geniuses together and gee willikers.” Mr. Dressler’s and Mr. Paparo’s interactions reflected that statement’s veracity.
The physicist and the artist came to understand their similarities far exceeded their differences. Mr. Lukenbaugh’s comical performance of the inventor helped to clarify this realization for the two characters.
In a memorable exchange, Mr. Paparo said, “I regret that we will be in two different volumes in the encyclopedia.”
Mr. Dressler responded, “There will be no Schendiman to come between us.”
The playwright included instances in which characters broke the fourth wall. Mr. Wayman played these comical scenes wonderfully. He criticized Mr. Dressler for appearing in the show before Ms. Davenport’s character. “You’re fourth,” he said. He then chastised Ms. Davenport for arriving late.
Mr. Martin’s work contained some “wild and crazy” humor. When describing her love of Picasso, Ms. Porfano used the simile “like a Polish village.” She then clarified by adding, “Unpronouncable.”
Melissa Davenport gave an expressive performance as Germaine: Freddie’s current and Picasso’s former girlfriend. She delivered the play’s most incisive line. During a frank conversation with Einstein, she declared that both he and Picasso entered their chosen fields of endeavor in order to “pick-up girls.”
E. Dale Smith-Gallo portrayed Picasso’s business-minded art dealer, Sagot. Lauren Proda played the Female Admirer.
Nicholas Renna instructed the other characters to “watch (his) shoes.” Interesting word choice as the actor chose some big shoes to fill in the role of The Visitor. A leather jacket clad Memphis musician with a distinct voice, he became the last luminary to visit the bar.
The presence of Mr. Renna’s character enhanced one of the show’s serious themes. Ms. Davenport’s character expressed optimism for the future. Mr. Dressler’s and Mr. Paparo’s characters determined that the twentieth century would be different from the preceding one. They concluded that whereas politicians guided the nineteenth century, artists and scientists would dominate the next. After this performance, one wonders if online theatre companies such as the Virtual Studio Players will shape the twenty-first.