The oddball comedy “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” certainly doesn’t lack for quirky moments: an imagined meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in Paris, interruptions from several enthusiastic love interests (including a sultry recitation of physics formulas), time-traveling guests — and potty humor.
With Steve Martin as playwright, what would you expect?
But for the actors playing Einstein and Picasso, the jokes and physical humor didn’t necessarily come easy. So when they reached roadblocks, they’d just think: What would Steve do?
After all, “there’s a little bit of Steve in all these characters,” director Bob Paisley said.
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” will open the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s season Sept. 8, placing the two geniuses in a Parisian cafe on the verge of their career-defining moments. Set at the turn of the century 1904, the show is a comedic commentary on the optimism of the future.
“This play speaks to progress,” Paisley said. “It’s a statement about where we’re going as a species and how we’re carrying each other along with it.”
But it’s not all philosophical musings. In true Martin fashion, it includes puns worthy of eye-rolls, over-the-top weirdness and low-brow humor. The show, the first full-length play from Martin, premiered in 1993 in Chicago and enjoyed successful runs in several American cities (Martin went on to write Tony-nominated musical “Bright Star” and his newest play, “Meteor Shower”). It has been performed several times in Kansas City, at Kansas City Repertory Theatre and most recently at St. Teresa’s Academy in 2013 and at Summit Theatre in Lee’s Summit in 2015.
Actors Jake Walker (Einstein) and Andy Penn (Picasso) said they’ve been experimenting with character choices and discovering new humor as it happens on the fly.
“It’s a piece of wacky, ridiculous, absurd comedy,” Walker said. “We’re not going toward the lowest common denominator. … It’s very smart but it doesn’t take itself so seriously.”
The show runs like an extended vaudeville act, with self-contained skits that build to punchlines. Characters flow in and out of the cafe, culminating in a visitor from the future who completes the intellectual triangle, so to speak.
While the Lapin Agile is a real place Picasso visited, the players in the show are merely caricatures. Walker and Penn did research beforehand. But because it’s a comedy, there’s room to create the historical characters as they see them, Penn said.
“It speaks about the creative process,” Penn said. “As an artist who creates, it’s wonderful to be able to work within a piece that is a really humorous yet profoundly intelligent commentary on what it means to create.”
“It’s working on so many different levels,” Paisley added. “It’s a tremendously engaging play.”
Also this week:
▪ “A Night on the Town With Les Lankhorst,” Sept. 8-10 at Musical Theatre Heritage in Crown Center. Lankhorst, who played Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas’ “The Rat Pack Is Back,” will perform his tribute solo act to Old Blue Eyes as part of MTH’s A Night on the Town Performance Series. See MTHKC.org.
▪ “Evita,” Sept. 9-Oct. 2 at the Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry St. The KC Rep presents the musical of Eva Peron’s life, from humble beginnings to her rise as the first lady of Argentina. See KCRep.org.
▪ “Die Nacht Der Nachte,” Sept. 9 at the Folly Theatre, 300 W. 12th St. Late Night Theatre presents a one-night celebration of 1930s Berlin cabaret clubs. See FollyTheater.org.
▪ “The Rat Pack Is Back,” Sept. 9-11 at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road. The weekend special re-creates the music and characters of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin in a nightclub act. See KCStarlight.com.
▪ “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” Sept. 10-11 at the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, 5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park. A one-woman show about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, recounting her life fleeing from Nazis and joining freedom fighters in Jerusalem before becoming a celebrated sex therapist in the United States. See The JKC.org.