Imagine Albert Einstein hanging out in a Paris nightspot, trolling for mademoiselles, his huge mane freshly washed, and a brand-new pocket protector in his vest. Then add a club-cruising companion -- say, Pablo Picasso. Sounds like it could be funny.
Actor-comedian Steve Martin figured as much when he sat down to write his first work for the stage, but the play's title, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, virtually begs audiences not to judge a book by its cover.
"It sounds so arcane," says Paul Provenza, who plays Picasso. "Then [audiences] find out it's about Einstein and Picasso, and it seems so inaccessible. It's really just a fun night of theater."
In Martin's play Picasso and Einstein (played by Mark Nelson) cross paths in 1904 in a bohemian bistro called the Lapin Agile. While the meeting is fiction, the time period is important, because both men had yet to complete the works that would make them famous. Picasso's first masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, was finished in 1907, and Einstein's general theory of relativity was published several years later. So in 1904 the painter and the physicist were just struggling geniuses.
"They aren't guys who have changed the world," Provenza explains. "They're basically two young, lusty, passionate guys sitting in a bar, hitting on chicks, and that's a side of them that most people don't expect to see."
Of course bad behavior can be revealing. Picasso, in particular, is pegged as a womanizer, a portrayal Provenza says exposes the painter's self-centered nature. And Einstein's decidedly unscientific view of life, virtually unknown to the public, is on display.
"Like Picasso, he looked at the world in a different way," Provenza says. "He had the heart of an artist. It's not something people expect from a preeminent physicist."
But Provenza doesn't want to overanalyze Martin's work. He's afraid that it might inhibit his ability to get into character.
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"The play is fiction," he says, "so in order to play Picasso, all you have to do is tap into that young guy who thinks he's going to change the world and wants to get laid."
Picasso and Einstein weren't the only guys who thought that way. One other "great" twentieth-century figure, a guy who "arrived" in the latter half of the century, makes a brief but memorable appearance at the end of Martin's play. Suffice it to say, he was a genius in his own right.
-- John Ferri
Picasso at the Lapin Agile opens February 24 and runs through March 15 at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St., Fort Lauderdale. Ticket prices range from $39 to $42.50. Call 954-763-2444. The show will then be staged at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse, 70 Royal Poinciana Plaza, West Palm Beach, March 24 through April 5. Prices range from $45 to $47.50. Call 561-659-3310. See "Stage" listings for more details.