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A painter and a genius walk into a bar...

WANT TO GO?

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile"

Presented by Charleston Stage Company

WHERE: Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers St.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 17-19

TICKETS: Adults $15, students and seniors $10

INFO: 304-343-5272 or www.charlestonstagecompany.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Director Tim Mace understands that as far as plays go, not only is "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" kind of a mouthful to say, it doesn't especially sound like a comedy, either.

"But it is," Mace added. "And it's really funny."

It ought to be. The play, which opens Thursday at the Capitol Center Theater, was the first written by actor/comedian/bluegrass picker Steve Martin. It deals with a chance meeting at a bar between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.

Mace said, "The bar actually exists. It's a little bar outside of Montmartre, Paris."

The Lapin Agile (Nimble Rabbit) is a famous French cabaret. Established in the mid-1800s, it became a gathering place for artists, writers and art dealers in the 1900s.

Picasso frequented the place, and in 1905 painted "At the Lapin Agile" while still a struggling artist. Eventually, of course, Picasso became world famous and so did the bar.

While Picasso was living in Paris, Einstein was visiting.

"So you have two geniuses in Paris at the same time," Mace said. "There's no real record of the two of them ever meeting or Einstein even stopping in at the Lapin Agile, but who knows?"

The set up was enough of a premise for Martin, who ran with it.

A reading of the play was first performed in Martin's home, with Tom Hanks reading as Picasso and West Virginian Chris Sarandon reading the role of Albert Einstein. It was later performed at theaters and playhouses in several cities. For a while, Martin seemed interested in turning it into a film, but so far nothing has come of it.

Mace said the play is plenty funny. The comedy is varied, with some very cerebral jokes and wordplay, along with plain old slapstick.

"I think Martin even wrote a character in there for himself," Mace said. "There's a kind of 'Jerk' character in there who's very bold, but kind of clueless."

This will be Mace's second attempt at staging "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." About 10 years ago, he said, Charleston Stage Company tried to put the play on. Mace was tapped to direct, but as they were preparing for rehearsals, they lost the rights to it.

"A touring company came through," he said. "They got as close as Columbus, Ohio, and because of that, we ended up losing the rights."

This time, Mace said, they shouldn't have any problems. It also helps, he added, that he has a solid cast that features veteran comic performers.

"Casting for a comedy is every bit as difficult, if not more difficult, than casting for a musical," he said. "Everybody thinks they can tell a joke, but not everybody has comic timing."

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," Mace said, will feature a couple of No Pants Players, Jeff Bukovinsky and Jamie Dunbar, as well as Greg Harpold, who was an earlier member of the comedy improv troupe.

"I have a lot of solid performers," he said. "We couldn't make this work otherwise." 

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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