By MARTY CLEAR
In the early 1990s, most people still thought of Steve Martin as a wacky and sometimes silly comedian.
That's one reason why Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Martin's fanciful but intellectual first play, garnered a lot of attention when it hit the stage in 1993. Martin's authorship still gives the play some of its commercial cache. In her curtain speech before the current Jobsite Theater production, director Kari Goetz told the audience that the play was written by "yes, that Steve Martin."
But, as Goetz and her cast demonstrate, this isn't a mere curio. The play is inventive, amusing and passably thought-provoking. It certainly wouldn't be produced so often if it had been penned by an unknown playwright, but it would deserve to be.
The idea is that Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso happen to meet in a Parisian cafe in 1904, when both are on the threshold of greatness. Wary at first of each other, they eventually realize that art embodies science and science embodies art.
In a way, Martin's ideas were a bit ahead of their time. The elegance of science became something of a hot topic in drama a few years later, in such plays as Proof and Oxygen.
But Martin's play isn't a dry discourse. It's more comedy than drama, seldom hilarious but entertaining throughout.
Highlights of the Jobsite production are a large and mostly excellent cast, led by Jason Vaughan Evans and Chris Holcom as Einstein and Picasso, a wonderful set by Brian Smallheer and a lot of attractive and evocative costumes by Goetz.
The script is far from flawless. It tries to pack a lot (maybe too much) into a fairly short play but still drags a bit at times. And its last minutes, with the entrance of a time-traveler called "The Visitor" and an extended paean to the 20th century, just don't work.
There is one odd aspect of the production. Almost all of the characters are European, but only one (Gaston, played by Steve Garland) speaks with an accent. It's perhaps a trivial problem, and might not be noticeable if the production weren't excellent. But once you start wondering why Gaston has a heavy French accent while Picasso, Einstein and the other cafe patrons sound like Americans, it's a distraction.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in the performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.