Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 7, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
A bar in Paris, 1904, is the setting for an imaginary
meeting between two 20th century icons, Pablo
Picasso and Albert Einstein.

Picasso and
Einstein walk
into a bar...

... and the rest is history, at
least history as imagined by
comedian Steve Martin

By Burl Burlingame


EVERYONE acts, just a little bit. When was the last time you found yourself saying something to someone, all the while thinking, "I can't believe I'm saying this. This isn't me."

Now imagine what it's like for those famous folks with "public" personas, those people you think you know simply because you hear about them all the time.

And whatever you've heard isn't true.

But that didn't stop actor/comedian/writer Steve Martin from imagining what-if in his play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," opening this week at Manoa Valley Theatre. In it, late one boozy night in 1904, young Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein chat each other up, comparing concepts and conceits. Picasso hasn't yet become a cubist; Einstein is a Swiss postal clerk with some wacky ideas about physics. And they're both more interested in pitching woo to the beautiful lady at the end of the bar.

"It isn't a biography," explains director Linda Johnson. "It's a comedy with some interesting ideas. We looked for some particular traits that the real Einstein and Picasso had, and melded them into the 'characters' portraying them. Picasso, for example, was by all accounts a charming womanizer. How would someone like that play and read? Einstein was stiff and quirky."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Lance Rae is Einstein and Charles Hill is Picasso.

"It was the title that intrigued me," admits Charles Hill, who plays Picasso. "I knew very little about that age, and I was challenged by this clean slate. I figured Martin did his homework, so I didn't need to. We know about Picasso's work during this period, but not much about him. He was painting; he was playing the field sexually; he was young and talented; it was hard to control him.

"Because of Picasso's immense fame, it was quite a challenge. I started by stripping it all away, as much as possible, doing a reduction to the core person. The thing to remember is that, more than being Picasso, he's a young person in Paris having fun, and he's very full of himself."

"I didn't know a lot about Picasso and I became fascinated by him," said Johnson. "Did you know he was married five times? I watched the movie 'Surviving Picasso,' about one of his ex-wives, and it was very interesting. But I didn't like that about the person, and while interviewing actors I definitely didn't want THAT kind of person. And Charles Hill isn't!

"We did talk a bit about accents. Picasso was Spanish, but lived in Paris. We went for just a trace of a French accent."

"How DO you portray an icon of the 20th century?" wondered Lance Rae, who plays Einstein. "Not easily! What we have to remember is that he was just a Swiss postal clerk with funky hair at the time, not the old guy we think of. That was a caricature even when he was alive. It's nice playing Albert Einstein as a young man. Einstein had a sex life! Can you believe it?"

Essentially, said Rae, "It's a play about two guys in a bar who have been drinking a little too much, and get around to talking about life. That it's Einstein and Picasso makes it kookier. If it were a completely serious play, we'd worry more about how accurately we're portraying Einstein and Picasso. But it's not, so we can have fun with them."

"It's a very funny play. It's a comedy, and yet it has a real intellectual side; slapstick with intelligence, I guess you'd say," said Johnson. "It's fascinating to discover that Steve Martin wrote this -- not that he writes well, but the subject matter. I didn't know that he had these deep interests in art and science. It's a side not many people know. We find out that both art and science come out of genius."

So: Add to Einstein and Picasso's images that of another public persona that colors this production -- Steve Martin, actor and public goofball. Surprise. It turns out that Martin is more than that. He's also a writer, philosopher and well-regarded art collector.

"I wasn't surprised by the comedy in the play, but the thoughtfulness of it was a surprise," said Hill. "Martin is making a philosophical statement. As a writer, there's a Steve Martin we don't know, a fan of art and science. But his humor comes through in very Steve Martin ways, and that's the beauty of the writing."

"I can picture Steve Martin in every character -- there's a bit of the 'wild and crazy' guy in each personality," said Rae. "So how am I playing Einstein?

"It's a little me, a little Steve Martin and a little Einstein. Steve Martin is bending reality just like the theory of relativity bends light."


Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Bullet Dates: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 24

Bullet Place: Manoa Valley Theatre

Bullet Admission: $20

Bullet Information: 988-6131

Bullet Note: Beau Soleil restaurant offers a buffet dinner 90 minutes before curtain Wednesdays through Saturdays.

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