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April 13, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Theater Review: Superb production of Steve Martin play at Bus Barn Theater Review: Superb production of Steve Martin play at Bus Barn (April 13, 2005)

By Bryan Wiggin

Almanac Theater Critic

The Bus Barn Stage Company production of Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" is the most enjoyable show I've seen in a long time. The play is clever, funny, and abundant with ideas. And this production is well-acted in every part, and expertly directed.

Set in 1904 in a Paris bar named the Lapin Agile -- the Nimble Rabbit -- the play imagines a meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, two figures who would be essential in the creation of ideas that formed the 20th century.

Martin plays with the implications of these ideas most skillfully. As one example, Einstein has agreed to meet a woman at a different bar, but has come to this one because the probability of her coming to this bar by mistake is as great as the probability of her going to the intended bar on purpose.

Thus, a serious scientific concept is made entertaining.

A year later, Einstein would publish his "Special Theory of Relativity" and become famous, but Picasso is already famous and everyone is talking about him in anticipation of his arrival. These include Freddy, the bartender, drolly and very well done by John Baldwin.

Gaston is an habitue who, between frequent trips to the toilet, laments the absence of love in his life, but also, as does everyone, makes trenchant observations on the passing scene. The reliably comical Jim Johnson gives Gaston a judicious touch of wry.

Einstein, young and handsome as presented by Thorvald Aagaard, comfortably assumes his own genius and instantly calculates complex sums to aid Freddy's bookkeeping.

Suzanne, richly done by Shannon Stowe, has already been drawn by Picasso, but what she really wants is another masterpiece of his sexual prowess.

When Picasso finally arrives, he proclaims his Spanishness by engaging in Flamenco dance with Suzanne and Freddy's wife, Germaine (Sondra Putnam). The dance in not complex, but it is evocative and very well executed. Michael Navarra makes Picasso strong and virile and unflinchingly confident as he observes his burgeoning mastery of his craft.

A less essential character is Sagot, an art dealer (well done by Ed Robinson), whose function is to hang a small Matisse on the wall so Picasso can be galled at seeing the work of his rival. Another is Charles Schmendiman, who believes he is the third iconoclastic genius present because he has invented a building material the components of which include cat claws. Dressed like a vaudeville clown, Bill D'Agostino gives him a frothy obnoxiousness.

Then there is A Visitor who has traveled backward in time. Scott Daniel gives this country boy who wears blue suede shoes just the right twitch of the hips.

Director Matthew Travisano has welded his cast into an ensemble that is tight but never mechanical. Within this seamlessness, his actors are able to convey a sense of spontaneity. This is a real achievement.

There is a good set from Don Cate, good costumes from Cecilia Galindo, and adroit and helpful lighting from Edward Hunter. And applause for the choreography goes to J. Pizarro.

This is a funny, clever, intelligent play that entertains on many levels, from the cerebral to the boffo, and the Bus Barn production is a treat. See it while you can.

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," by Steve Martin, is being presented at the Bus Barn Stage Company in Los Altos through April 16. For information, call 941-0551.

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