By Marlene S. Gaylinn, December 2014
CT Critics Circle / ctcritics.org
PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT
"The Underpants,” which played last season at Long Wharf Theatre, was a hilarious satire about German society. It was so successful that Gordon Edelstein is directing another clever work by multi-talented Steve Martin called, “Picasso At The Lapin Agile.”
This comedy takes place in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, when this lively city was the hub of some of the world’s greatest geniuses.The Lapin Agile, which translated means “nimble rabbit,” was actually one of their meeting places. Supposedly, mingling over a drink for hours allowed the exchange of creative ideas in every field possible.This setting also became the inspiration for Steve Martin who imagined what it must have been like for a variety of eccentrics to meet in one place and crash heads, while tolerating individual personalities.
And so, we are taken back in time for a glimpse of what was in the minds of advanced thinkers about a century ago.The ensemble of characters are: Albert Einstein (Robbie Tann), Pablo Picasso (Grayson Dejesus), an elderly, customer named, “Gaston” (David Margulies), the friendly and wise bar tender (Tom Rus Farrell), his sexy partner, Germain (Penny Balfour), three women of various stature in society, all played by talented, Dina Shihabi, a strange, futuristic visitor in blue suede shoes (Jake Silbermann), a photographer named, “Sagot”(Ronald Guttman), and finally, a hyperactive businessman who masquerades as a genius and holds the colorful name, “Schmendiman” (Jonathan Spivey).
For those who don’t know why the fictitious name “Schmendiman” sounds so amusing, I should point out that is a play on the Yiddish word “schmendrick,” which is often used to downgrade or joke about someone. “He’s a schmendrick!” refers to “A little fool or clown” and implies, that he should know better. And, living up to his character’s name, Spivey milks his small, comic role to the fullest.
This one-act comedy explores the nature of creativity. In doing so, Martin assumes that there are all kinds of geniuses and that they can meet on common ground for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company and exchanging ideas. Keep in mind that Martin’s is toying with real characters and a fantasy created by his own genius.
Plays to Dec. 21st Tickets: 203-787-4284
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, CT
Don’t let the title throw you because this World Premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre is not about politicians nor a protest against war. In fact, there are so many abstract, loose threads about: evolution, comparisons of past and present societies, social classes, racial and family relationships, sibling rivalries, methods of and/or lack of communications between family members, misplaced values, philosophical messages from the dead, etc. etc. that it’s hard to figure out the main theme and understand what this young, black playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is trying to say. Even if you refer to your program notes beforehand, you won’t have the slightest hint about what this play is about until the end of Act Two, when a touching letter is translated from German. Had we started with the letter in Act 1, and worked backwards, perhaps the work might have made more sense and impact.
Act One begins with the cast of humans and ape-like characters laughing symbolically at the audience. Like the musical “Cabaret,” we assume that the audience is supposed to be a reflection of both the viewer and participant. We then realize that the woman we see highlighted in the hospital bed off to one side, is in a coma. The apes that she is trying to communicate with in her imagination are apparently guiding her passage in and out of reality. Are the apes representative of how the Germans viewed black people? Are they her inner conscience? Do they represent us and/or human evolution from a primitive culture? Their reason for being is not made clear.
It’s important to know the German word; “mishlingkinder”refers to the mixed-children who were fathered by black soldiers during World War II, because these children and the grandchildren that followed serve as a background to the play.
Supposedly, this cultural mix accounts for the attitudes among the present generations who have somehow come to live in the United States at the present time. However, this information and particularly how important it is to us, if at all, needs further development. Play notes are not enough.
Today, children of many cultures are alienated. They are so engrossed in themselves and their toys that they ignore present reality, the passage of time, past history and family relationships – so what’s new about this? There needs to be something more significant to touch us emotionally than just a letter from a dying matriarch.
As the play stands now, this is still a “work in progress.”Lileana Blain-Cruz directs the hard-working cast of hooting apes and quarreling children. The modern, off-center lines of the set, designed by Mariana Hernandez, is the eye-catching highlight of the entire production.
Plays to Dec. 13th Tickets 203-432-1234