The intellectual distance between Steve Martin’s early, catchphrase-heavy stand-up comedy and his first full-length play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile might seem great. Fear not, though, as fans of his early, funny stuff should recognize the same absurdist spirit that ran through Martin’s early routines in Picasso.
“He used a lot of irony. He used a lot of almost absurdist humor in what he was doing. And I think that is very present in the play,” said David Jenkins, co-founder and producing artistic director of Jobsite, which is producing Picasso Sept. 14-Oct. 9 in the Shimberg Theater.
Fans of Martin’s films, Jenkins adds, may see similarities between his movie’s “eccentric, larger-than-life characters” and the main characters of Picasso.
In that respect, Martin had a head start. The characters in Picasso already were larger than life.
The play imagines a fictitious 1904 meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in the Lapin Agile, a Paris bar.
“What if Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso met in a bar in 1904? What kind of conversation would these two guys have?” asks Jenkins. Adding to the magnitude of the meeting, both men are on the verge of altering life and culture as we know it: “It’s right before Pablo Picasso moves into his Blue Period,” Jenkins said, “and it’s right before Albert Einstein presented a paper on the Theory of Relativity.”
Of course the meeting never took place, which just gives Martin more room to run. Besides, it could have.
“It’s a real bar in Paris,” Jenkins said, “Pablo Picasso did live in Paris in 1904 as did Albert Einstein.
The Lapin Agile has been serving customers since the 1860s and is still open today.
“What would they talk about?” Jenkins asked. “What might happen if these two would’ve met and, in some way, inspired one another to think differently, to do something different, to go out on a limb?”
Martin’s motive, Jenkins said, is less reimagining history and far more entertaining audiences.
“First and foremost, Steve Martin’s looking for people to have a good time,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think that there’s a heavy agenda message here in this play. I think that so much is done in terms of whimsy. And there’s just a real whimsiness to this. And I mean that in the best sense of the word whimsy.”
Blake Smallen as Albert Einstein and Brian Shea as Freddy in Jobsite Theater’s production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Photo courtesy Ned Averill-Snell.
Jobsite first staged Picasso in 2009. The play was widely popular and at the time was the top ticket-seller in Jobsite’s history.
“Steve Martin’s clearly a household name,” Jenkins said, discussing the original run’s popularity. “Obviously, that attracts people that don’t even go to plays normally.
“It’s a comedy, which is also very helpful,” Jenkins said. “Comedies tend to sell better than thinkers or dramas or anything like that. “And then it’s the subject matter — you’ve got both Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got well-known stuff with well-known stuff with well-known stuff. I think the show’s success can be attributed to that perfect storm of all that stuff.”