Einstein and Picasso meet at a bar….
Who could resist going to see a play with an opening lure like that?
For the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, the Sunday afternoon performance was the last of the run of a play by Steve Martin called, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and it was sold out. Martin writes that when he saw a self- portrait of Picasso Au Lapin Agile painted in 1905, he began to wonder about the story that led up to Picasso’s painting, about a bartender named Freddie, about the characters who may have wandered into the bar in 1904, taking some liberties with the nine characters who appear in the ninety minute play, he created a play that in no way disappoints.
I had no idea that Martin had ever written a play; we were so intrigued by the notion that we appeared an hour before the play was to open, hoping for no-shows. And were rewarded along with the five others who were standing in the wait line. We got in.
The characters in the play speak a most delightful, thoughtful and rare combination of humor, satire and profound dialogue.
“Yeah, well, we’re all writers, aren’t we? He’s a writer that hasn’t been published, and I’m a writer who hasn’t written anything.” Freddy quips in response to Einstein’s revelation that his book on relativity is written but not yet published.
And then there is this:
Picasso: Well, I see other painters struggling with it, killing themselves over it even. And I donʻt get their worry. I put the pencil to the paper, and it comes out. Not the craft, mind you, that was difficult to get. The ideas are a different matter. The ideas swoop down on me, they fall like rain; they land with a crash.
Einstein: They “thunk,” too.
Picasso: Absolutely! They thunk.
Einstein: You too?
Picasso: Yes. And pop.
Einstein: Well, pop all the time, that goes without saying. They never seem to flow though.
Picasso: Never. Flowing is a myth.
Einstein: Never flow. Well, sometimes.
Picasso: Yeah, sometimes.
Freddy: Where do they come from?
Picasso: Before me, artists used to get ideas from the past. But as of this moment, they are coming from the future, fast and loose.
Einstein: Absolutely from the future.
Picasso: I think in the moment of the pencil to paper, the future is mapped out in the face of the person drawn. Imagine that the pencil is pushed hard enough, and the lead goes through the paper into another dimension.
The San Luis Obispo Community Theater prides itself on over sixty years of plays, making it one of the longest running community theaters in the country. Until we experience the intimacy of small theater, it is all too easy to lose ourselves in the tempting but frequently far less satisfying panoramic movie screen. Commenting on that point, in an interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter, Martin remarked, “In general, yeah, I think comedy is completely overlooked. I mean, most young actors think that real acting is when you’re shooting up heroin and crying and ranting and raving and flipping out. Actually, I’m getting tired of some of these films. I think they’re ugly. I looked at something the other night-not Jean-Claude Van Damme, but somebody like that-where they were blowing people away. And I just thought, `What a silly thing to do for a living.’ “