ORLANDO — Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Asile” is, well, a lot like Steve Martin in general: silly, light hearted, but sometimes deceptively so, with a surprising degree of sly social commentary popping up.
His 1993 play, which looks at the chance meeting between artist Pablo Picasso and scientist Albert Einstein in a bar in Paris, The Lapin Agile, is not a play concerned much about historical accuracy, history lessons, or becoming a character study of two legendary men. It’s really … well, Steve Martin, being goofy and often charming in the same way he was in the 1970s on all those “Saturday Night Live” episodes when he gave us the “wild and crazy guy.”
Martin has been a highly influential figure since the 1970s in stand up comedy, television and the movies, and he’s always demonstrated a particular gift for over-the-top physical comedy.
For a refresher course, check out his comedic genius in the 1984 movie “All of Me,” about a dying millionaire whose soul get transferred to a younger woman, who then finds herself trapped in her lawyer’s body — with the lawyer. Martin had to juggle the concept of playing both the lawyer and the woman in the same body, and it’s hard to imagine who else could have embodied the role quite so hilariously.
Not surprisingly, Martin is today likely to be better remembered for those “Saturday Night Live” reruns or his long list of movies than his work as a playwright. “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” had a successful run in Los Angeles and eventually made its way to New York City, and it’s in some ways a surprise revival for Mad Cow Theatre, which often selects considerably more highbrow fare. While I wouldn’t call “Picasso” lowbrow — despite its ongoing incontinence gags about an elderly man’s challenges with excess urination — it’s a play that doesn’t make any pretense to being anything but delightfully zany.
There isn’t much of a plot in the 80 minute play, performed without intermission, about how Picasso and Einstein, both in their 20s, happen to meet in that Paris bar in 1904. While conversing with the bartender and his wife, the young woman who caught Picasso’s eye, and assorted other wacky types, they speculate on where the new century is headed – all with a high degree of optimism. It’s the bartender who provokes the most laughs when he predicts the advanced country of Germany will lead the world to eternal peace.
And not even the arrival of a rock and roller whose career will not take off for another 50 years, and better known to modern day audiences as Elvis, shakes their faith that great things are on the way. Elvis, you see, has gotten into a time warp … well, never mind. It’s not important.
Outside of the sly commentary about how future ambitions and dreams can get quashed by the cruel twists of fate, the play’s greatest pleasures lie in watching Wesley Slade and Robert Johnston play Einstein and Picasso, respectively. Both men appear to be having the time of their lives in these roles, which seem like they may originally have been written as a kind of lengthy “Saturday Night Live” skit. Johnston gives us a Picasso who seems to have romance rather than artistic creation on his mind, and Slade delivers a young genius with all the social skills of any textbook example of a classic geek — perhaps even the original exclamation point nerd. Joe Llorens also has a lot of fun playing the bartender of the Paris café, minus any noticeable French accent. You get the picture.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” may appeal most to Martin’s loyal fans, and perhaps least to those so young they’ve never heard of him. It’s quirky ways, though, can be charming and enjoyable to follow.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” plays through Feb. 19 in Mad Cow’s Harriett Theatre.
Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
There will be Talk Backs discussions with the cast following every Thursday and Sunday performance.
Mad Cow Theatre is at 54 W. Church St. in downtown Orlando. Call 407-297-8788 for tickets or more information.
Conclusion: Steve Martin’s 1993 play “Picasso at the Lapin Asile” is an acquired taste that won’t work for everyone, and probably will be appreciated most by the comedian’s loyal fans. Mad Cow Theatre revs up the fun with some hilarious performances.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..