Backstage: ‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’

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(Host) If Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein had met in a bar, what would the conversations have been like? VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes “Backstage” with Lost Nation Theatre’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

(Charnoff) We’re at a small Parisian caf at the dawn of the 20th century. The walls are covered with art, sculptures hang in space. Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein share a table, where they talk about the nature of genius, comedy and art, and what the future may bring humankind. The conflict between Art and Science comes to life in Steve Martin’s play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

In this scene, Einstein, explains to Picasso why a scientific theory needs to be as beautiful as a painting.

(Einstein) “You know why the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth? Because the idea isn’t beautiful enough. If you’re trying to prove that the sun revolves around the earth, in order to make the theory fit the facts, you have to have the planets moving backwards, and the sun doing loop the loops. Too ugly. Way ugly.”
(Picasso) “So you’re saying you bring a beautiful idea into being?”
(Einstein) “Yes. We create a system and see if the facts can fit it.”
(Picasso) “So you’re not just describing the world as it is?”
(Einstein) “No! We are creating a new way of looking at the world!”
(Picasso) “So you’re saying you dream the impossible and put it into effect?”
(Einstein) “Exactly.”

(Charnoff) Greg Parente plays Pablo Picasso. He says that Picasso’s flamboyant passion inspires the more cerebral Albert Einstein.

(Parente) “It’s coming out of his hands and his gestures and his voice and he’s got a lot of passion for what he talks about and Einstein is not accustomed to seeing that. But I think his energy evokes something in Einstein that he’s never seen before, and that’s the greatness of the play. It takes someone like Picasso, an artist to get somebody more of like a heady, introverted intellectual to get him out of his shell. And once he gets him out of his shell, we see how similar they are as people.”

(Charnoff) Director Bill Hickock says that Steve Martin’s fictional encounters between these two men are logical enough to seem true to life.

(Hickock) “Well it is the arts and sciences and they do go hand in hand, and they are linked. And the individual artist and the individual scientist – because they study in their field all the time – they may not see that link. But when they get together, they see it. It’s there.”

(Charnoff) The play also includes a number of characters orbiting around Picasso and Einstein. Here, Germaine, a waitress, is trying to get Einstein to talk about his forthcoming book.

(Germaine) “Is it funny?”
(Einstein) “Well
(Germaine) “Because if it’s funny you can sell more books.”
(Einstein) “It’s very funny.”
(Germaine) “Ah! It’s very funny.”
(Einstein) “Well, actually, that depends on what you mean by funny.”
(Germaine) “Well, does it make you laugh?” (Einstein) “No.”
(Germaine) “Chuckle?”
(Einstein) “No.”
(Germaine) “Smile?”
(Einstein) “I wish I could say yes.”
(Germaine) “So it’s not funny.”
(Einstein) “No.”
(Germaine) “But you just said it was funny.”
(Einstein) “I was trying to sell more books.”

(Charnoff) Jenny Gundy plays Germaine. She suggests that Steve Martin’s play shows that the genius and the everyman have a lot in common.

(Gundy) “It sort of develops as the play goes on. You see how everyone has a different kind of intelligence, and what we have is just as powerful in a sense, although we don’t change the century the way these two will.”

(Charnoff) Kim Bent, Lost Nation Theatre’s artistic director, says that people who only know Steve Martin as the “wild and crazy guy” will impressed by his first original play.

(Bent) “You start out thinking that it’s Steve Martin – this is a lot of one liners, it’s funny, it’ll be fun to do. But then you discover these other dimensions in it and it’s actually very – it’s lyrically very resonant and actually poetic in the end.”

(Dialogue from the play)
(Germaine) “Could it have illustrations?”
(Einstein) “Impossible.”
(Germaine) “Why not? Might look good, give it some zip.”
(Einstein) “Illustrations are two dimensional.” (Germaine) “I know what you mean, but a good draftsman can give very realistic three-dimensional drawings.”
(Einstein) “I need four.”

(Charnoff) For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” runs through August 17 at Monpelier’s City Hall Arts Center.

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