Walking into Crystal Lake’s Raue Center for the Arts always is a bit of a magical experience for me – I love the way the canopy of stars twinkles its greeting and invites me to contemplate the imagined world I am about to enter for the next few hours. With the Williams Street Repertory’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” the magic is even greater than usual.
Directed by Joe Lehman, this production has transformed the open and airy space of the Raue into an intimate, Parisian bar – an effect enhanced by Lehman’s inclusion of four very lucky audience members selected to sit on stage as patrons of the Lapin Agile. Described by Lehman as “a unique, adventurous, and utterly theatrical experience,” the inclusion, in effect, pulls the entire audience into the imagined space of the bar and invites us to view it from a different perspective. And perspective, in many ways, is the point of this very witty and thought-provoking play.
Written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” imagines Picasso and Einstein in 1904, just before Einstein published his special theory of relativity and Picasso emerged from his blue period to begin his influential development of Cubism. Reflective of Martin’s own artistic bent, the play makes us laugh, but also invites us to think about its bigger themes of inspiration, genius, work and fame within the confluence of art, science and commerce of the 20th century. Before Picasso and Einstein gained recognition, they were just two guys in a bar, talking about life and work to the people around them. It seems like a relatable premise – after all, who doesn’t think of themselves as a genius after a couple of drinks at the bar?
Lehman has assembled a terrific cast. Ryan J. Duncan, as Picasso, and Evan Cullinan, as Einstein, both convey the charismatic charm of genius. Duncan oozes a sensual arrogance that is just right for the womanizing Picasso. He is more than matched by Cullinan’s perfect comedic timing and intellectual delivery.
Duncan and Cullinan’s performances are complemented by Joel Bennett and Amanda Flahive – who as Freddy, the bar owner, and his girlfriend, Germaine – tap into a genius all their own. Frank Gaughan, as Gaston, a newly old man; Mark R. Mahallak, as Sagot, Picasso’s art dealer; Miriam Naponelli, as Suzanne, Picasso’s love interest; and Thomas E. Squires, as Schmendiman, generate laughs in all the right places while still giving the audience something serious to think about. Danny Miller, playing the most famous bar visitor of them all, provides a bit of a surreal perspective and keeps things interesting. (Hint: He wears blue suede shoes.)
There’s a great deal to like about “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” and you won’t want to miss it. Williams Street Repertory recently announced it has become a Chicago Area Theater associated with the Actors Equity Association, a move that signals its commitment to staging professional theater. I can’t wait to see what new inspiration and genius it will bring.
• Carolyne Hurlburt has been involved in local theater for many years, both on stage and off. Formerly a board member of TownSquare Players in Woodstock and Light-Hearted Productions, she now studies contemporary literature at Marquette University. Find her on Twitter: @churlbu.
“PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE”
WHEN: Through Oct. 23
WHERE: Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake
COST & INFO: A comedy written by Steve Martin in 1993 that imagines a meeting between two of history’s greatest minds, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. Produced by Williams Street Repertory. Schedule: 8 p.m. Sept. 23-24, 30, Oct. 1, 7-8, 14-15, 21-22; 3 p.m. Sept. 25, Oct. 2, 9, 15-16, 23. Tickets: $32.50-$38.50. Each performance will feature onstage seating for four patrons. For information or to reserve onstage seating, call 815-356-9212. Tickets and information: 815-356-9212 or https://rauecenter.ticketforce.com.