Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013

Playing Icons On The Stage

Sousltice Theatre's Picasso at the Lapin Agile

By Russ Bickerstaff
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In Picasso at the Lapin Agile, comic legend Steve Martin wrote an exceedingly clever stage comedy that ends up posing a really, really big challenge to any theatrical production. The play has three highly iconic legends of the twentieth century sharing space in a cafe in Paris. The play comes to St. Francis this month in a production with Soulstice Theatre.


The first off the legends to enter is Albert Einstein. His is a face that everyone is familiar with. Though few have likely seen actual footage of the man in casual conversation, we all know what he's supposed to sound like. Walter Matthau did a brilliant job bringing this to the screen in I.Q. some 20 years ago. Much more recently Noah Silverstein may not have looked the part of Einstein in the final Natalie Ryan play at the UC this past summer, but he had a charisma about him that worked exceedingly well. Here we have piano man Brian Myers playing the role and he looks even less the role than Silverstein did, but he's got his own kind of charisma in the role that's fun nonetheless. Myers is sparklingly charming behind a piano. Here he's given the challenge of coming across as brilliant without being inhuman. It's a lot to manage, but Myers plays the role quite well. Stripped of all the visual gimmicks we'd expect from the character, Myers plays a man on the verge of becoming legendary. It's a fun performance. Thankfully, Myers avoids the gimmicks of the character enough to put forth a charming appearance. 


The second legend to enter is Pablo Picasso in the form of Josh Perkins. Perkins is ugh more traditionally attractive than Picasso was. Picasso had a charm about him that made him very popular. Perkins delivers that to the stage with a kind of dramatic rockstar personality that serves the role well. Okay, so he doesn't have the physical presence of the legendary artist scene in photographs. For popular actors' performances I'd have to say my favorite was Anthony Hopkins in Surviving Picasso . . . brilliant performance there, but Hopkins played an older Picasso. Perkins plays the man as young and brilliant and staggeringly charismatic. It's a fun interpretation of the character fed through a particularly clever script by a man who is now quite well-known as an art collector. Martin's perspective on art is a lot of fun to re-examine here after the release of his 2010 novel An Object of Beauty, which was set in the contemporary art world milieu. Nice to get his perspective on art from twenty years ago again. And it's nice to see Perkins manifesting Martin's insight onstage.


We also have an art dealer present at the cafe . . . played here with the kind of enjoyable personality that we've come to expect from David Ferrie over the years. Making a similarly charming performance in an entirely different way is Shannon Tyburski playing a gorgeous, young woman who waits for Picasso at the cafe. Tyburski is able to cast aside everything else here and be relentlessly alluring, which is quite enjoyable, but Martin also gives the character some depth beyond being pretty that Tyburski does an excellent job of picking up on. 


Stephen Pfisterer plays a gentleman from the future who appears in the cafe. A legend from the mid-twentieth century who is also one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. This might normally be a problem for any actor, but as Elvis impersonators have now probably logged more stage time than Elvis several hundred times over it's not as big a challenge bringing him to the stage because as a wise, wise man once said--Elvis is everywhere. Pfisterer has little to do here but gather the right drawl and he's there. The fact that Pfisterer also has a really good sense of comic timing and delivery are extra. 


Soulstice Theatre's production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile runs through November 23rd at the Keith Tamsett Theater on 3770 South Pennsylvania Avenue in St. Francis. A concise review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express. For ticket reservations, call 414-481-2800.


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