Picasso MVTsBy John Berger
work of art
Special to the Star-Bulletin
EINSTEIN meets Picasso in a Parisian bar and Honolulu comes out the winner as Manoa Valley Theatre opens 1999 with Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."
The year of the encounter, 1904, is significant because both men were on the verge of accomplishments that would make them famous. Einstein was months away from publishing his theory of relativity. Picasso would complete his landmark painting "Les Demoiselles D'Avignon," a few years later. Both men would become cultural icons. Beyond that, the 20th century was still new and seemed to hold boundless promise. Martin's characters reflect that optimism in diverse and often hilarious ways.
Martin writes Einstein as the stereotypical absent-minded yet brilliant professor. Picasso seems a bit more common. He's a conceited ladies man who maladroitly introduces himself to a recent, but already forgotten, conquest and then tries to defuse her anger by explaining that he meant everything he told her during their sexual encounter but, "I just forgot who I said it to."
The always versatile Lance Rae stars as Einstein. He finds a worthy second in Charles Lester Hill as Picasso.
Rae gives another Po'okela-worthy performance in a role that has become a caricature in the years since Einstein's death. Rae is worth watching even when he's only reacting to action elsewhere. Hill makes his Honolulu stage debut with a strong performance as the brash yet vulnerable artist.
Emily Kojima proves mesmerizing three times over as Picasso's disaffected lover, as a countess entranced by Einstein's cerebral quirkiness, and in a brief third role that's good for a single well-timed laugh. Kojima is clearly a fresh talent to watch for in community theater.
Mark Gilbert is Freddy, the owner of the Lapin Agile. He figures prominently in a segment involving a pointless joke about an odd-shaped pie and makes it a momentary highlight in a series of entertaining character vignettes. Kristen Van Bodegraven is Freddy's very French wife.
Lew Lappert is grouchy but witty old Gaston whose frequent trips to the restroom become a running joke; Lappert does great work with a fine comic character role. Dean Turner (Sagot, an art dealer) voices Martin's skeptical views on art dealers and their influence on the arts. Colin Miyamoto adds youthful enthusiasm as the man who announces that he will be one of the most famous men of the 20th century -- Charles Dabernow Schmendiman!
Ronald Perry completes the cast with a surprise appearance in Act II. (The fact that he appears isn't the surprise; it's who he portrays and the manner of his entrance that is surprising). Perry does a thoroughly competent job. 'Nuff said.
In short, there are no throw-away roles or lackluster performances here!
Given Martin's credentials as a comedy writer, comedian, actor and screenplay author, it's not surprising that he draws on a wide range of comic genres ranging from cornball to sight gags to subtle to sophisticated. It helps to know a little about Einstein and Picasso, but no knowledge is necessary to find these characters entertaining in their own right.
This could conceivably be a 75-minute one-act play, but each time Martin's flight of fantasy appears to be nearing stall-speed one character or another sends it soaring high again.
The one problem with MVT's production is the staging. The audience watches from two levels on three sides of the performance area. Those closest to the stage may have a chance to interact with the performers during the show and at intermission, but hearing all the dialogue is a challenge for those farther back. Some of the finer visual bits and pieces of the individual performances can't be seen by those on one side of the theater or the other when the performers are facing the other way.
Darren Hochstedler's Parisian bar is a delightful creation. It conceals a surprise or three. Hochstedler shares credit with director Linda Johnson, technical director Perry, costume designer Alexander Torres, and sound designer Jason Taglianetti for the overall quality of this entertaining and thought-provoking production.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile: Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
Dates: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 24
Place: Manoa Valley Theatre
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