'Picasso' A Comedic Portrait Of Youthful Genius
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 00:02
What happens when you introduce two of history’s most prolific geniuses, liberate them of language barriers, and have Steve Martin feed them shot after shot after shot? I’m not sure, but the result is called Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and there were certainly no “icebox” laughs in last Friday’s performance. The Boston College theater department brought the proverbial house down with an energetic hour of fantastical, thought-provoking comedy.
The show takes place at a murky cabaret in Paris. Albert Einstein (Billy McEntee), on the verge of publishing his Theory of Relativity, is about to meet a Pablo Picasso (Chris Gouchoe) ready to abandon his Blue Period and create Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Our culture often remembers history’s geniuses as somber, tortured artists, but PALA takes on a lighter tone than the subject matter implies. As student director Shannon DeBari reminds us, “we forget that Einstein and Picasso were young once, too, around [our] age, hitting on women and having a few drinks in a bar.” And her vision rings clear throughout the production— the characters do not recognize each other as the brilliant men that we see them as today, often criticizing and disregarding what turned out to be the greatest work of the 20th century the way one would laugh off their friend’s indie music blog.
McEntee portrays a neurotic, frail little Einstein whose awkward personality is a laudable exercise in restraint. He is at once confident in his genius and modest in his presentation. Patrick Lazour, as Schmendiman, executes his sardonic role with excellent comedic timing and appears comfortable living his character, inserting ad-libs, flamboyant hand flares, and even interacting with the audience as he screams his name happily into their faces. Sarah Mass also gives a noteworthy performance as Suzanne. She delivers her monologue with just the right amount of gesture to demonstrate Picasso’s mythical effect on women.
Gouchoe comes blaring in like the Spanish Armada, instantly grabbing onto anything remotely feminine and reimagining the bar in his subjective, cubist philosophies. When he is in action, it’s impossible to look away. He is a fireball of suave. Thanks should be given to Pingwei Li for her visionary costume design. Picasso’s long, loose robes cascade as he drapes himself on women. They trail behind him to emphasize his smudged, impressionistic existence.
Picasso’s fire comes into contact with Einstein’s timid genius in a memorable scene —the stage dims red, and we are removed from the Lapin Agile as the two duel in a chair-kicking, high-jumping, aerobic “draw-off.” It becomes apparent that no creation has an objective value removed from emotion. No dream is significant without an innate human curiosity. What does the Theory of Relativity mean to a man not mystified by the universe? What do Picasso’s drawings show to a literal mentality?
When Picasso sees Suzanne, the audience watches breathlessly as he seduces her for a second time. Picasso approaches women with the careful discretion of his art—they are, after all, the fragmented subjects of his work so often. Gouchoe envelops Mass in his hunger for inspiration, he reaches to deconstruct her through sex, to break her down into the loose format of his paintings. We see him hit that vulnerable spot, take her apart for canvas-work, and leave her rotting like a forgotten still-life. In fact he quickly moves on Germaine (Sarah Goldstein) as well, but to no avail. Obviously, the scene is important—this is, perhaps, Picasso’s only rejection. But I was hoping to be removed from the bar for this scene through lighting and sound as we were for the other moments of catharsis (the showdown, the star-gazing).
Towards the end of the play, we are treated to a brief, gorgeous representation of Elvis—a stray “visitor” (Joe Meade) that wanders into the piece just in time to remind us that genius lies somewhere beyond science and art, in a land of mindset. Regrettably, the performances by the “geniuses” are so vibrant, and so well-performed, that they eclipse the audience’s interest in the smaller, saner characters. Freddy (Tim Kopacz), Gaston (Leo Magrini), Sagot (Tom Brown), and the Countess (Christine Movius) all contribute wonderfully to the show, but how can they possibly stand out among the wild personages that shaped the 20th century?
Picasso at the Lapin Agile is, for this very reason, perfect at a time when many are realizing that we may not be as special as we were always led to believe. That brief moment when Picasso sketches Suzanne is most telling. The production of art takes nothing out of him, it requires no extra effort because genius is his consistent mode of existence. If he was to always hold a pen, he would always be producing because he lives it. And like the overshadowed minor characters in this play, we have to wonder: do I have that? Am I worthy of a drink at the Lapin Agile? Perhaps we should merely appreciate the creators of our age as they are creating, and not wait for retrospect to shape our perception of the world.