Play imagines Einstein meeting Picasso
What would you do if someone told you that you could have drinks with Pablo Picasso? How about Albert Einstein?
Obviously, you’d go! But what would you talk about?
Steve Martin — yes, that same funny Steve Martin you know from the movies — thought about this at the turn of the 21st century, when he wrote a play that considers what might happen if Picasso and Einstein met in a bar. But not just any bar, a bar of their time — the Lapin Agile, a bar in heart of Paris known at the turn of the 20th century for cabaret and great discussions of “the meaning of art.”
In the play, Picasso and Einstein, whose egos match their intellects, spar with the regulars and each other about art, science, inspiration, love and the promise of the 20th century. It was Martin’s first full-length play; at the debut reading in Martin’s Beverly Hills home, Tom Hanks read the role of Picasso and Chris Sarandon read the role of Einstein. The 1995 production in New York City won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play.
Next week, Feb. 8-11, Middlebury Community Players will bring it’s own production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” to the Town Hall Theater stage in Middlebury. There will be a cash bar at each performance with a limited number of café-table seats available to help set the mood.
“Steve Martin is an excellent writer,” said MCP director Eileen Corcoran. “The play is smart, it’s funny, it’s absurd, and I think that’s intriguing … it makes for some great acting potential.”
This is Corcoran’s first MCP production, though she’s been involved with theater in Vergennes and Middlebury since moving to Vermont 14 years ago. It’s also the two lead characters’ first production with MCP. Einstein is played by Sam Lyons, a first-year student at Middlebury College, and Picasso is played by Daniel Leonard, a 28-year-old actor who splits time between Chittenden, Vt., and New York City.
“Everyone is so wonderful,” said Leonard. “I really like the cast. It’s a great group of people who all do different things and let it all go during rehearsal.”
The cast of Middlebury Community Players’ “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” poses after a dress rehearsal. The show goes up in Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater on Feb. 8.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
For Lyons, being part of this production opened him up to people outside the college and gave the 19-year-old a glimpse of what life looks like down the non-professional-actor path.
“It has showed me what my future could look like with theater,” he said. “I’m not looking for a professional job with theater, but it’s nice to see that there is a life in community theater after college.”
For both young actors, the twice a week rehearsal is manageable. Lyons juggles rehearsals with schoolwork and training with the crew team at Middlebury. Leonard finds time between gigs that help pay the bills and auditions in New York City.
All members of this Middlebury Community Players production are volunteer — even Corcoran, who works as the outreach coordinator for the Vermont Historical Society in Barre.
“It’s about taking the time to do something creative,” she said. “That’s what theater is all about.”
And her cast and crew are more than willing to put in the effort.
“Growing up I always had the idea that community theater was the bottom of the barrel,” Leonard, who moved to New York at the age of 18, admitted. “I can now safely say that all theater is community theater — sometimes there’s a lot of money in the budget and sometimes not, but no matter what, there’s a community … In community theater you use the resources you have (which isn’t always a lot), but the intention and integrity is as if it were a Broadway production.”
It helps that Middlebury Community Players enjoys tremendous support from the community and Corcoran is a humble director.
“As a director you give and take with your actors; working together creatively is what helps create something even better,” she said. “There’s not a lot of action in this play — like there are no bar fights — it’s all about the interactions and words, so it’s important to get the characters right and then we can make it pop! The challenge is always to take your whole vision of possibilities and then narrow it down to what we actually have and what we can actually do.”
Corcoran counts herself lucky that she found two young men to play the lead roles of Picasso and Einstein.
“It’s not the easiest thing to find two 20-somethings interested in community theater,” she laughed. But seriously, it isn’t.
“This just so happens to be a really wonderful play by one of my favorite people — Steve Martin,” said Leonard, who was introduced to the idea of auditioning by his girlfriend’s mom, Kim Moyer. “In a lot of senses what I like about Steve Martin is that he’s very smart, very witty and also very clean … You can almost imagine Steve Martin playing every role; it’s not ever too deep, serious or dark, but then there are gems of insight every once in a while.”
Aside from the script, it’s the people that draw Leonard and Lyons into the community theater fold.
“Eileen has a fun side to her,” Lyons explained. “She knows when we could use a break or comic relief. It feels like friends hanging out putting on this play.”
The sentiment is mutual.
“This cast is fantastic,” Corcoran echoed. “It’s not a giant spectacle of a show, but we can still shine with what we have.”
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