Saturday, October 22, 2005

opening-night review of Picasso at the Lapin Agile

at the Spokane Civic's Studio Theatre through Nov. 12

A thoughtful and funny script is given an uneven production in the Civic's current Studio show, Steve Martin's intellectual-absurdist comedy, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Absurdist humor shuns self-consciousness. If you perform stupidly ridiculous (and cruelly hurtful) acts, yet demonstrate no awareness of just how laughable and harmful they are -- now that's Kafka, that's Beckett. But if your anxiety is manifest, and your nervousness betrays that you're aware of just how foolish and mean-hearted your acts are, that erases all their absurdity. Then they're simply silly; then they're merely mundane.

On opening night, the Civic's cast let its self-consciousness show. There were several funny episodes, but too often the Civic cast performed like actors fully aware of how hard they had to work to make the audience get the jokes -- when what we need instead are people behaving onstage in ways fully reasonable to them and completely irrational to us. As Einstein might comment, it's all relative.

It's 1904 in a bar in Paris, and in walks not only the master relativist of physics but also the master relativist of art. Einstein and Picasso are both right on the verge of making comparable discoveries -- that the observer changes the observed, that reality isn't anywhere near as solid and graspable as we'd hoped.

Sounds like a scream, doesn't it? But playwright Martin really does ladle on the comedic opportunities -- especially with anachronisms that are out of place in 1904 but outrageously funny with the hindsight of our century of "progress" since. And besides, it's just a smart-guys-getting-drunk-and-getting-told-off-by-the-barmaid kind of play.

Nearly every one of the nine actors has funny bits to go with the missed chances.

As Gaston, the elderly barfly, Fred Strange overemphasizes his bodily woes and malfunctions instead of just behaving them. But Martin lends the old coot some one-liners, and Strange, with his swept-back hair and antic eyes, embodies the oddball.

As the bartender, Bill Mykelbust excels at the comic timing of retorts and insights tossed in from the margins. But his long speech testing Einstein's skills needs to accelerate to warp-speed -- and without self-consciousness.

As the bartender's wife, Darcy Durgan takes too many pauses in her recitation of the wonders that the 20th century will bring -- but in her flirtation scene with Picasso, combining desire with defiance, she nicely toys with a flower even as she's asserting the rights of women.

Tessa Gregory establishes herself as the sort of smart, sexy woman who just might be Picasso's next muse. But one of her monologues -- an erotic crescendo that climaxes on a couch -- seemed mistimed and fell oddly flat.

As an art dealer, Dave Rideout got big laughs with his camera but small ones with his photo album.

As big men in small but showy roles, both Will Gilman and Max Nightser have to remember that a Santa Claus who isn't jolly is just a schlubb. It may not be over until the fat men sing, but they've got to really sing, with no signs of self-criticism apparent. When Santa's down on himself, he's just depressing. And both of these characters -- Schmendiman and the Visitor, both of them con men in their own ways -- are anything but down on themselves.

Again and again, I kept wanting the actors to let go and pursue the outrageous -- not in the sense of hamming it up, but in the sense of behaving in the belief that whims are thoughts, and thoughts actions, and who cares if anyone's confused by my actions? Behave with gusto in the moment, and your excitement will carry out beyond the stage's edge.

In Picasso (which premiered in 1993), Martin provides a script that's probably more cerebral and less farcical than The Underpants, but very much in the thinking-person's-comedy category. The witticisms have to sparkle and flow. The audience will be questioning if they're supposed to laugh at this allusion or that conundrum, so the actors have to guide them with precision. (An Immanuel Kant joke fell flat, but then most of them do.)

There are several laugh-on-top-of-the-last-laugh sequences in this show -- two geniuses have a drawing competition, Einstein suddenly has a big idea. Picasso's vanity is suddenly deflated -- but the difficulty of describing them has to do with how those jokes are in my past but your future. Time isn't linear or absolute, you see....

For more examples of comedic opportunities that peaked or fell flat in this production of "Picasso at the Nimble Rabbit," along with comments on Jeremy Lindholm as Einstein and Paul Villabrille as Picasso, on Peter Hardie's set, on Donovan Stohlberg's direction, and on how the passage of time will change this cast's performance (relatively speaking) -- and even an attempt to write a kind of E = mc[squared] kind of formula for success in comedy -- pick up a copy of the Thursday, Oct. 27 issue of The Pacific Northwest Inlander.


At October 22, 2005 12:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

does the size of these actors have something to do with the show?
That seemed to personal and inapproiate.

At October 22, 2005 2:11 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

I just posted a very long response to this and it got lost in the cyber ether.
The gist was that I agree, it's uncomfortable to refer to actors' personal characteristics. Just as I felt about the rest of the cast, there's a need to project absolute self-confidence in the case of the Visitor and Schmendiman. Because of our communal experience with Elvis imitators, in my view, weight is an element in considering the
I conceded that I was wrong to mention it vis a vis Schmendiman -- as I wrote, I realized that all I was criticizing was what I regarded as his lack of obnoxious self-confidence, not his weight, and I apologized.
I don't think there's an absolute rule that reviewers should never mention such matters -- never say never -- and I gave some (hypothetical) examples.

I really regret losing what I said ...
I will try to reconstruct when I have time, which may not be for three days or more.
Gotta run.

At October 25, 2005 1:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have been known to make other comments like that in the past discrimination comes in all forms my friend and does not go unnoticed.

At October 25, 2005 8:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discrimination??? He called me "Big"... and believe it or not... I am. No apologies necesary Bobo, to be perfectly honest, I was just happy to be mentioned. That was my goal. I wish you'd liked my performance a bit more... but then again I totally see what you mean about the "Obnoxious Self Confidence" and have used that in future performances.
I hope you dont feel bad, or anything about calling me Big... my nickname is Big Willie... I really didnt take offense.

Have a great day.

At October 26, 2005 9:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big Willie, you are a class act. I am also a big person. It is the last acceptable prejudice.

That said, sparing the feelings of actors isn't a critic's job. If it affects his reaction to the play, he should be able to comment on it.

At October 27, 2005 12:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bobo needs a lesson on discrimination

At October 29, 2005 9:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Bobo why do you not print in the Inlander your crass fat jokes?

At November 01, 2005 10:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do believe this very blog had that audition info up for about a week....

At November 02, 2005 1:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the most informative, up-to-date, useful theatre web site in town, I don't think anyone can top CYT.

At November 03, 2005 1:07 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

We have removed some comments critical of the Civic's Web site.
The actual (and involved) story is that because of licensing problems (the Web address had been licensed to individuals, not to the theater itself) and because of some unscrupulous, predatory blackguards who try to swoop in and steal Web addresses, the Civic has had to fight for months just to retain the rights to its own Web site.
Yvonne A.K. Johnson says that will be up and running by next week or soon after.

At November 03, 2005 3:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The theatre seems a little thin skinned nobody was being cruel yhey were only speaking of thier frustrations,those comments in my opinion should not have been removed.Critical comments should not be removed are you not a critic?

At November 03, 2005 3:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The theatre seems a little thin skinned nobody was being cruel yhey were only speaking of thier frustrations,those comments in my opinion should not have been removed.Critical comments should not be removed are you not a critic?

At November 03, 2005 4:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow u write worse than I do!

At November 03, 2005 4:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

criticism and slight are two related but VERY different things. In my mere opinion, Bobo does an excellent job of walking the wide-but-trepidatious line between the two.
As a 'Big, Large, Fat- Whatever' actor, I find it absolutely ridiculous that people truly think that commenting on a performers size is in some way 'prejudicial'.
If he'd been called "birdlike" or "waifish" no one would have said a friggin word!
Geez people, Lighten Up!!!

At November 03, 2005 7:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is with this blog? One can't share frustration about an organization's lack of a working website or the dearth of publicity about a given art event without it being deemed "critical" (as if that's something bad) and summarily removed. The removed comments didn't even address an individual, but non-human institutions.
Who chooses what to censor and what not to censor? Granted, it's not my blog, it's yours, Bobo, but it does make me wonder about your objectivity and/or that of your employer? Do you run your reviews past the institutions whose productions you review before you print them too?

At November 03, 2005 9:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would think Civic would want to know how well word of its auditions and shows was making it out to the community. Doesn't it qualify as feedback - valuable and constructive feedback at that - to share that it's sometimes frustrating or difficult to get accurate, up-to-date info about Civic happenings? Why is this something that has to be "removed" like its insulting or something?

At November 04, 2005 1:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Civic is now being criticized for how a blog they have no control over is run? "Non-human institution"? Yeah, I'm confused.

At November 04, 2005 1:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bobo, were the comments removed at Civic's request, or the blog admin, or yours?

At November 04, 2005 11:17 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

The Civic requested that the comments be removed.
Given that the majority of the negative comments that have crowded onto this blog have been, in one way or another, Civic-related, I thought it would calm things down to remove comments that were premised on false assumptions. So I had that done and then posted an explanation, following a phone conversation I had with Yvonne (she called me to ask for the comments to be removed).
It's true that the Civic's Web site has been down for a very long time. Some kind of explanation could have been conveyed.
I think anonymous 3:25 and 9:59 make a very good point. There's a difference between personal attacks and institutional criticisms. I knuckled under and shouldn't have.
Those complaining may have had incomplete information -- they went on the assumption that the Civic was just being inept or lazy, when in fact they were engaged in a long battle with the equivalent of Internet pirates.
The important thing is that the Web site will soon be restored, and that people use it and look forward to it.

The Civic may not like that they do not have full control over this blog's content, or how they're portrayed here. Too bad. I'm trying to be responsible about it, but they and other theaters are going to get both pans and praises here.
On the other hand, while I agree that I should have let the comments stand (they were along the lines of, c'mon, Civic, get it together -- the Web site's been under construction for months, so why aren't upcoming audition notices at least posted?), I don't agree that taking them off this blog constitutes censorship, any more than is burning my former girlfriend's love letters written passionately to me during college, before my wife discovers them in the basement. (Oops, better get around to doing that.)

At November 04, 2005 1:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bobo great response!

At November 04, 2005 2:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like all ego from here bobo

At November 04, 2005 3:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that Civic has overcome the Internet pirates and will have its website functional soon.

Were I not a child of 20th century television and thus used to resolution by coincidence, I might be tempted to draw a cause-effect relationship between the postings on this blog expressing dicontent about getting updated Civic audition info and the news that the several (9 or 10?) month period without a working website will be ending within a week of those postings.


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