When recalling stirring theatrical looks at the last century, no one would put this Steve Martin script in a category with August Wilson's decade-by-decade canon or even Flaherty/Ahrens/ McNally/Doctorow's Ragtime. But Picasso at the Lapin Agile is an adorable, incisive, thoughtful script, particularly for those who love watching Martin's ideas corkscrew wildly into the truth.
And because the script is, in essence, punch line answered by punch line—with, nearing evening's end, a few ethereal monologues providing a moment of contemplative serenity—it needs a director who not only appreciates each second of the play but who also knows how to build their rhythms. For fans of this script, nothing is worse than wanting to turn to our fellow audience members and whisper, "That line was supposed to be funny. Really."
Let's give director/producer Mikey Myers his due. The set (Ryan Wilson and Markus Flanagan)—the Lapin Agile bar in 1904 Paris—is sturdy and inviting, and the door (an essential element in comedy) does its carpenter proud. Lighting (uncredited) is elegant and was handled precisely on opening night. But the remarkably rich and accurate casting is where Myers fully shines. Andy Lauer is a grumpy barkeep; Jill Zimmerman is his taller, better half. Eddie Jauregui is a dangerously intense Picasso; David Bosnak is a cheery Einstein. Angelo Loukas is the oily art dealer; Aaron Lodge is the inept inventor. Not one but two pretty girls visit the bar: Samantha Thomson as the groupie and Susie Kim as a variety of others. Fred Deni is the older—if not elderly—bar patron; Ryan Wilson helps make up the play's "troika." And, yes, Zimmerman does fine work: always observing, aware of the characters and actors around her, unafraid to break out of the slow rhythms that become established early on and seem to remain entrenched. So, too, is Deni a pleasure to watch as he enriches his character with humanity and finds truth and comedy in each of his lines.
But a punch line deserves to hit its intended target, and this work should pummel its audience into blissful limpness by play's end. Instead of staggering to the exit weak from laughter, we shake our heads and think about what we missed.
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," presented by at and the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. $15-20. Mar. 26-May 1. (310) 397-3244.