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THEATER REVIEW: Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Funny Content: Charleston Stage lets loose

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Picasso at the Lapin Agile
March 19-21, 8 p.m.; March 22, 3 p.m.
$22-$29
Memminger Auditorium
56 Beaufain St.
(843) 577-7183
www.charlestonstage.com

The delightful production of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile opened on Friday the 13th, the same day readers of the La Grande (Ore.) Observer mulled over an open letter from Martin, in which he defined his work's intentions.

The playwright wasn't merely trying to explain his play to parents of La Grande high schoolers hoping to stage Lapin. He's responding to the school board's decision to ban a student production due to "adult content."

Which would be true if we were in Victorian England. In Charleston, this might have been news to Friday's audience, which greeted the sunny performance by openly, unreservedly, rocking in their seats with laughter.

Director Julian Wiles, founder of Charleston Stage, and his cast turn themselves loose on Lapin's infectious enthusiasm for broad, absurd comedy. The cast has so much fun with its lusty embrace of all things creative that the audience can be forgiven if Lapin's philosophical musings get less attention.

Set in 1904, Lapin imagines Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso meeting in one of the latter's real-life haunts, the Lapin Agile bar in Paris. Their chance encounter is the spark for a loopy confrontation that scatters punch lines, bawdy romanticism, and dialectical arguments with equal abandon.

Both Randy Risher's Einstein and Brian Zane's Picasso come off as lovable rogues. Watching them bicker, challenge each other's genius, and still find time to sweet-talk women like Suzanne (Viveka Chadrasekaran) and The Countess (Sarah Claire Smith), amounts to the funniest moments in the play.

The other denizens of the Lapin Agile don't lack for quirky charm. Freddy (Robbie Thomas) the bartender and his waitress girlfriend Germaine (Jan Gilbert) turn in hilarious performances while trying to contain this freewheeling forum on physics, art, and love. Art dealer Sagot (Sonny Kong) sweeps all before him with over-the-top French gusto. His counterpart in commerce — an American salesman named Charles Dabenow Schmendiman (Andy McCain) — lands on the bar's doorstep just in time to intrude his own opinions on genius. With great timing, McCain and Kong kick up a lot of dust in the old Lapin. Even aging would-be Lothario Gaston (Michael Hamburg) delivers dead-pan wisdom between recurring, urgent bathroom breaks.

If this all sounds like a romp, it most definitely is. Wiles steers a lively course that makes the evening fly. And back in Oregon, the noted "wild and crazy guy" has offered to pay for an off-campus show if the kids are allowed to perform his play. Here's hoping they do.

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