Funny and Thin
SPOILER ALERT! I rat out the ending, so if you're thinking about seeing the production and want to know if it's worth your $15, here are my thoughts:
1) Strong direction by John S. Infante.
2) Wonderful performance by Bob Kokol as a walking bladder problem.
3) Mike Martin's Einstein is too arch at the beginning but smoothes out half-way.
4) But then the production grinds to a halt. Masumi Emil's lackluster art dealer and Grayson Berry's "I'm-the-only-person-onstage-look-at-me" performance as Picasso are the prime culprits.
5) The production looks to be DOA until Shawn Michael Brewer's entrance as obnoxious entrepreneur Schmendiman steals the show and gives the pacing an ass kicking.
That all adds up to a qualified "yes": a decent production of an often very funny, if remarkably thin, comedy.
Now stop reading if you don't want the ending spoiled. The crispness of comedian Steve Martin's writing is a joy but doesn't add up to much. The numerous art and philosophy references indicate that he might lead us into deeper intellectual territory, but it turns out he is merely name-dropping. Anyone who has ever seen or read an interview with Martin knows the guy's brilliant, but in this, his first play, he rarely follows through with his ideas to any real conclusion. When he does, the conclusions are pretty fatuous.
Case in point: Picasso and Einstein meet in a small French tavern to talk about a third genius who'll invade the world's consciousness with them. That third party turns out to be Elvis Presley. At play's end, when stars in the sky miraculously spell out the men's names, Presley's overshadows the other two. Martin may have been making a joke about society's exaltation of celebrity over substance, but there's no indication it's meant sarcastically, so who knows? Presley —who once said, "The only thing a nigger can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes"—isn't even remotely in the same league as the scientist who drafted the theory of relativity or the artist who changed the art world (and laid the foundation for rock & roll) with Les Demoiselle d'Avignon. All three men were major pussy hounds, but that's about all they had in common. Reactionary as it might sound, it's insulting to mention those geniuses and a racist hick in the same breath.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Stages, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Oct. 19. $13-$15.
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