No evidence has been found that Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein ever met, but starting tonight people can see the two joke about sex, share a shot of liquor and argue over who will be become more influential in the 20th century.
It’s 1904 in the play and the artist and scientist were both young men unknown to the general public. Einstein’s theory of relativity is one year away from being published, and Picasso’s painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” will not been seen for three more years.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” a CSU theater program production opening tonight, imagines a meeting between Picasso and Einstein in 1904 at a bar in Paris. The comedic play is written by actor and comedian Steve Martin, known for his work on “Saturday Night Live” and movies “The Jerk” and “Father of the Bride.” “This show blows the lid off anything I’ve attempted since I’ve been here at CSU,” said Nathan Young, a senior theatre and art major, who plays Einstein. “Fort Collins theater has needed a comedy for a long time, not just at CSU, but in the town as well.”
The Lapin Agile bar, French for nimble rabbit, is the setting for the entire play. A bartender doles out drinks as Einstein, Picasso and numerous other patrons shuffle in and out. The patrons riff on everything from the idea of genius, to sexual prowess, to the differences and similarities between art and science.
“It’s set in a bar and it’s a little bit like ‘Cheers,’ people come and go,” said Laura Jones, the play’s director and theatre professor at CSU. “It’s great to see these two (Einstein and Picasso) being very animated and say that they’re going to be making huge contributions to the 20th century.”
Einstein and Picasso argue over whose contributions will have a more important and lasting impact in the century ahead. Other characters, including the bartender and his girlfriend, Picasso’s muse and an art seller, all chime in with their visions of the future. References to the Beatles, automobiles, the Wright Brothers and World War II are made.
Jessica Rogers, stage manager of the play and a junior theatre major, would love for students to come out and laugh, but also pick up on all the significant art and science references, too. Rogers said the overt and undercover humor, plus a lot of special effects – like the play almost feeling like a concert at the end – should leave students and other audience members pleased.
The theatre program is also offering discussions after the play and accompanying exhibits, “like an after-school special” Jones said, to explore the commonalities between art and science.
The program is partnering with the Department of Physics’ Little Shop of Physics to present a mini-exhibit on Einstein featuring hands-on experiments, like using a Geiger counter to find radioactive levels in everyday products. The Department of Art is also participating by vastly enlarging the Picasso paintings used in the play and presenting informative material.
Art and physics professors will discuss the parallels between art and science with audiences after the performances on Feb. 9 and 15.
“I feel excited to play Picasso, trying to be a visionary is fun” said Robert Mitchell, a junior international studies major, who is playing the artist.
“I went into this thinking that Picasso was an overrated hack, but I’ve done a lot of research and realized he had a lot of radical and exceptional ideas,” Mitchell said. There is a parallel between what Picasso did to art and what Einstein did to science.
“Personally I didn’t think I had enough sexy to play Picasso,” Mitchell said, noting the artist’s penchant for women. Mitchell has played this part of Picasso before in high school, but said it’s now much more fun to “revisit the role with maturity.”
“I want students to get a hell of a lot of laughs out of this play and hopefully the realization that Picasso had some vision,” Mitchell said, as he fixed the collar on his cream colored shirt in the men’s dressing room before a dress rehearsal.
The Lapin Agile still exists in Paris and has been researched by the stage crew so the set can be as historically accurate as possible. Jones said the set-up is unique because there is not a right angle on the entire stage, so everywhere a person goes onstage it is slightly skewed. The set designers are also recreating Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” for the play.
“I have been anxious to do a comedy,” Jones said. “I’ve been doing heavy duty, serious stuff lately.”
“The timing for this play I think is right,” Jones said, “as it parallels the beginning of the 21st century. Everyone has a theory about something, and its fascinating to listen to what people think is going to happen in the next 100 years, whether it be global warming, or arguing over whether the internet and technology will take over.”
Steve Martin is not only wild and crazy, but brilliant,” she said. “The writing on one level is like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ then very cleverly interwoven are these insights about art and science, and the effect these two gentlemen’s work had on the 20th century.”
Pacing the stage and surrounding area before a dress rehearsal, Jones said the closer it gets to opening night, the more and more useless she feels.
“I want to turn it over to everyone else to make the magic happen,” Jones said. “The play is going to be very clever, the students actors are doing an excellent job.”
Young, the CSU senior playing Einstein, believes that this play is a great way for students to experience theater.
“It’s short, hilarious and one big ‘SNL’ sketch, except it’s got a heart, a giant big heart,” Young said.
Buttoning up part of his gray suit in the men’s dressing room and talking with his hair in bundles to perfect Einstein’s famous hairdo, Young adamantly stated that this performance is definitely unlike anything the Theatre Department has tried before. The production includes special effects and loads of comedy.
“If you don’t like theatre, see this show,” Young said. “And if you don’t like it, give me a call.”
Staff writer Brian Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Play opens Feb. 8 and runs the 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 11 at 2 p.m.
Play is in the University Theatre at the University Center for the Arts at 1400 Remington St.
Tickets are $6 for CSU students, $14 for the general public and $10 for seniors. A small campus box office service charge will be added.
Tickets can be purchased at www.csutix.com or at 491-4TIX – advance purchase is highly recommended.