CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An artist and a physicist walk into a bar ..."
It may sound like the intro to a joke, but that's the theme of the Charleston Stage Company's quirky comedy, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."
The one-act play, written by comedian Steve Martin, examines the possibilities had Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso met in a bar in Paris in 1904, at a time when both young men were poised on the verge of greatness. Einstein would publish his special theory of relativity in 1905, and Picasso would paint his famous nudes, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," in 1907.
The men interact with a cast of barroom regulars, engaging in friendly competition as they debate the merits of life, love and genius.
Beckley native Jeff Faulkner shines as the earnest young Einstein, whose rumpled appearance is easily identifiable despite that he's yet to go gray. When the bartender expresses disbelief that Einstein is only 25, the physicist replies, "I discovered at an early age I would always try to look 86."
Jeff Bukovinsky, of Charleston, portrays Picasso as a suave ladies' man, wooing love interests in one breath, then struggling with his frustrations as an artist the next.
Each man is skeptical of the other's contribution to society, and much of the cast's discussion centers on what the new century holds for humanity. Once the characters have their moment of insight, a familiar yet unnamed visitor arrives -- with much fanfare -- from the future to offer some sage advice to the men.
The cast is solid. Terry Terpening delivers a standout supporting performance as Sagot, an art collector whose dry-humored delivery is reminiscent of the late Katharine Hepburn. "You want Jesus watching over you, but not while in a missionary position," she explains to Suzanne (Renata Padon) as to why she doesn't think paintings of the messiah should be displayed in the home.
The play bucks convention several times by breaking the fourth wall, during which an actor addresses the audience. The startling and seemingly impromptu asides elicit chuckles from the seats. As a whole, the story is an entertaining look at the similarities of the creative process involved to accomplish great works of art and science.
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" continues at 7:30 p.m. May 11-12 and May 17-19 at WVSU Capitol Center Theatre. Admission is $15 adults, $10 students. For more information or tickets, call the box office at 304-343-5272.