A week ago I was without power, which was annoying enough, but now I’m further annoyed in retrospect because it robbed me of a whole week that I could rave about Sycamore Rouge’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” I saw the bar performance of the production last night and it was a singular experience, unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. If you have any doubts about making the trek down to Petersburg to see this show, get over it and check out this production. If you go this weekend, you’ll have the extra bonus of seeing how the “Lincoln” movie people have totally revamped the streets of Olde Town Petersburg – it’s pretty impressive (if a little annoying from a parking perspective).
Certainly part of my delight with this experience was the environmental theater aspect of it. “Picasso” is set in a bar, Sycamore Rouge has a lovely in-the-round kind of bar area, making it perfect to host this show. I was lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar (ok, I kind of stole it from director Jeffrey Cole, but hey, it was a really good seat!) and so I got to see a lot of the action very up-close-and-personal. Einstein (Adam Mincks) asked me to hand him a napkin; Germaine (Liz Blake) rolled her eyes at me conspiratorially after a particularly grandiose statement by Picasso (Ryan Bechard). It was a little intimidating at times but I definitely felt like a part of the action, and not just a spectator.
Even more exciting was being a few feet away from the actors as they launched into their intense tete-a-tetes. There were moments exchanged between Picasso and Suzanne (Irene Kuykendall) and then Picasso and Germaine that literally gave me goose bumps. I can’t guarantee that these translate as well from the stage as they did in the bar, but if even half the heat that is generated between these actors makes it into the house, that’ll certainly be fiery enough to warm your hot toddies.
Cole has brought together a great cast for this production, and one of the most striking aspects of it as a whole is frankly how striking they all are. Kuykendall and Blake are just knock-out gorgeous, Bechard has that dark smoldering artist thing down perfectly, and David Janosik (as barkeep Freddy), Phil Vollmer (as comic interlude Schmendiman), Larry Akin Smith (as fading lothario Gaston) and Mincks all have the off-hand good looks of great comic actors: affably handsome blokes whose good looks don’t get in the way of them making a good joke.
But more important than just a bunch of pretty faces, this is a collection of great actors. All the principals have monologue moments that they absolutely kill, none more stirring than Blake’s challenging comeback to Picasso about his relationships with women. If there was a highlight reel for this year’s theater season, that moment would have to be on it. What you tend to notice in an environmental performance is how well actors are staying in character and maintaining relationships when they are not in the spotlight. Mincks (who was sitting next to me during much of the show) was regularly reacting to the action going on among other characters; Blake and Bechard exchanged several inconspicuous but significant glances. Also, these actors had the added challenge of a cast of unpredictable extras to play off of and they did so impeccably.
Last night, Elise Boyd was subbing in for Kellita Wooten as Sagot and I felt lucky to catch her in this role because, in my experience, Ms. Boyd is always entertaining. She did not disappoint here. And though I was certainly entranced by the beauty of this cast, that didn’t totally distract me from noticing the fine costume work by Kate Prothemos. Boyd’s period get-up was notable as was the lovely bustier/skirt combination Kuykendall rocks throughout the show.
I have seen “Picasso” at least once before – the production I remember is the one TheatreVirginia did many years ago. I had issues with the script then and I still do. In a show where even the minor characters (i.e., Gaston) are given interesting back stories to play with, the character of the Countess is particularly random (even though Claire Biggers is great in the role – and also very easy on the eyes). “The Visitor” bit seems almost lazy on Martin’s part, a device to wrap the show up, not necessarily to add anything to the proceedings (Kent Holden does fine here, though it’s hard to match the electric charge you expect from who his character is supposed to be).
The challenge for anybody putting on this show is to make the most of the script’s many delights and to obscure the weaknesses and this production certainly does that exponentially better than I remember the TVa production doing. Though I wish hundreds of people could get the benefit of seeing it in its environmental setting, I’m sure the staged version is just as much rollicking good fun. Bravo to Mr. Cole and his creative and comely cast!
And while I’m raving, I have to put in a further endorsement for Theatre IV’s “A Year with Frog and Toad.” I wrote a glowing review of this production a month or so ago and Style still hasn’t run it. This is as charming and engaging a production as you are likely to see, with performances and technical elements that haven’t been pro-rated in any way just because it’s a kid’s show in a modest-sized house. I still remember my amazement at how rich the musical arrangements by Paul Deiss are and that was just the first of many pleasures I found in this production. If you don’t have a kid, borrow one and bring him or her to this show. You’ll be glad you did.