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"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," show #858

I went into Los Altos Stage Company’s production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile completely cold to the script. I’d heard about it, I treasure Steve Martin as an actor and writer, and I know Los Altos Stage Company consistently produces stellar work; that’s all I required to give it a try. From the opening conversation between barkeep Freddy and server Germaine, I knew I was in for a treat. The moment Tom Gough burst through the tavern door as the boisterous Gaston, my assuredness in being treated to terrific theatre became a smile-filled happiness that I basked in for 90 minutes. Crafted with comedic integrity by director Chris Reber, this Picasso… is brimming with hilarity, social commentary, and whimsical storytelling,.

Set in 1904, it features two yet to be famous geniuses kvetching and rambling intelligently about their work, why it matters, and why it should matter to those in the tavern. Keenan Flagg and Stephen Kanaski, playing Einstein and Picasso, respectively, are humorous and thought-provoking with ease. Their camaraderie and rivalry are given focus, and the two actors deliver on all accounts of what one would want to see Einstein and Picasso behave like when a few drinks have been consumed and a few beautiful women have entered their gaze. Gough is loveably pompous in his delivery of Gaston’s thoughts, urgencies to pee (the character is the oldest in the bar, after all), and engagements with the other characters.

(Stephen Kanaski (Picasso) and Keenan Flagg (Einstein); Photo credit: Christian Pizzirani)

Gabriella Goldstein, as Germaine, is a force of comedic timing and reaction, ramping up to a stellar monologue as she lambasts Picasso for his, shall we say, irreparable treatment of the fairer sex. Kanaski’s chemistry opposite Goldstein and April Green’s Suzanne is that of a calculating bro, and Kanaski delivers Martin’s text with a seductive poetic flare that would make anyone who appreciates fine art swoon. Flagg’s antics as the often not-so-serious Einstein make for a physical performance that matches his many asides and rants on science and human nature.

(L to R: Aaron Hurley (Freddy), Gabriella Goldstein (Germaine), Stephen Kanaski (Picasso); Photo source: Christian Pizzirani/Town Crier)

Mohamed Ismall is a show-stopper as the exuberant showman, Schmendiman. Ismail trounces around the stage with a pizazz and intoxicating smile that draws in the audience for even more laughs than we’ve already been treated to, and exits to well-earned mid-show applause. Aaron Hurley supports the leading cast well as the bumbling barkeep, adding doses of anecdotes and commentary which play well off the patrons in his tavern. Kalyn McKenzie as The Visitor and John Stephen King as Sagot round out the cast wonderfully, adding varying motivations for why one purses their subjective appreciation of art.

Seafus Smith’s scenic design is simply outstanding, making the Lapin Agile bar an appropriately decorated, functionally cozy set for us to enjoy the 90-minute one-act play. Lisa Claybaugh’s costume design adds depth to each character, convincingly taking us to the early 1900’s while still letting each role pop with personality and color. Mykal Philbin’s lighting design does the job well in bringing mood and focus to Reber’s staging, whether it’s a sit-and-speak moment or when Gough or Ismall make their way back-and-forth in the bar. All this is in support of a triumphant helming by Reber, who matches each comedic and romantic beat with specific attention given to the moment, an ebb-and-flow pace which allows the audience to enjoy the wit of Steve Martin and process the choices made by this strong acting company. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to an evening at Los Altos’s …Lapin Agile; it will be a visit you will not regret.

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