KEARNEY — “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” mixes outlandish concepts of the early 20th century with the humor of a famous late 20th-century comedian.
“Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein meet in a bar and spar with each other about art, science, love, inspiration, Cubism and relativity,” said Steve Barth, executive artistic director of Crane River Theater. “What is so fun about this show is there’s this high-concept idea, infused with wonderful Steve Martin humor. It brings the sophistication down in a way that makes it hilarious.”
The result — a comedy featuring goofy wordplay and convention-flouting plot twists.
“Even Elvis makes a cameo at one point,” Barth said. “All of these other fun characters make their way into this bar. Even some characters we don’t know, well, we get to love them over the course of the show. I think the humor is so creative and witty that it will have audiences laughing from beginning to end.”
Crane River Theater presents “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at 7 p.m. June 6-8 and 2 p.m. June 8-9 at the Miriam Drake Theatre in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. Tickets for the comedy are $20.
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“There is a bunch of tongue-in-cheek asides to the audience,” Barth said. “There are three famous people who meet before they are famous. They are going to meet in a bar. And then you have this average bartender and his girlfriend who works at the bar. And they are waiting for these three ‘famous’ people to arrive.”
Einstein arrives first, young and smart.
“Einstein is a regular at this bar,” Barth said. “So we have the two, but the other characters don’t know that they are going to be famous. So it feels like the audience is in on a secret that the characters know nothing about.”
Director Becky Boesen finds humor when the play attacks the sacred cows of our world.
“The funniest parts are the irreverent moments,” she said. “And this show is chockful of irreverence. Steve Martin does something very clever in paying homage to these geniuses who had this extraordinary vision. His comedy is at that level of genius, too. “He can get away with making some really abstract jokes in this thing, yet, there is this universal truth to them — and they land.”
Barth agrees. He also looks for a finer point when working with humor on stage.
“Comedy at its finest is when the actors don’t play the joke,” Barth said. “They play the action and the situation sincerely and the humor arrives out of it as a result. When you see an actor telling a joke and they find it funnier than we do, the humor is lost. “But when a performer is part of a joke and they don’t realize it, and we think we’re in on it for the first time, that’s when the humor really comes out.”
Barth sees Martin, as a playwright, acknowledging that path to comedy.
“He understands that,” Barth said. “He’s able to write the jokes so that the actors play that action — and the comedy arises out of that situation.”
Audiences with a lack of advance knowledge about the history of art and physics in the early 20th century still can enjoy “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
“You don’t have to know about Picasso’s Blue Period, you don’t have to know that E=mc2, you don’t have to know about Cubism or relativity,” Barth said. “There are definitely jokes that infer those things, but the jokes make fun of those lofty concepts. “The humor is written for an everyday audience member.”
Beyond the obvious plot, Boesen holds back on a few secrets to the production. One of those secrets surrounds the set.
“There’s a huge surprise that unveils a universe,” she said.
That surprise enhances the plot of the play.
“These two characters have been trying to make anyone see that they are able to see,” Boesen said. “And then, all at once, it is revealed to everyone in the room. They all can see more than they could before. It almost gives me tinglies to talk about it. I love how skilled Steve Martin is with the writing.”