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Written by Steve Martin

The comedy recipe calls for at least two parts invention to one part familiarity, and Steve Martin knows that well: The humor of his classic era depended on both his bland persona—his suit, his shoes, and even his hair were white—and the silly, sometimes downright stupid physical and mental contortions to which he subjected it. He was way more of a McCartney than a Harrison back then, but his first play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, revealed a more intellectual side, even if some of the cosmological humor is less insightful than arrow-through-the-head simplistic. Thus, the first half-hour of Keegan’s production feels a little like a convention of fitfully quippy Tom Robbins characters assembled for a History in the Schools project. We’re in the Bar Lapin Agile, in Paris, about 100 years ago: “Don’t be so old-fashioned, darling—these are the Naughts,” says Germain to her barkeep husband. A young Einstein is waiting for a date—even though she’s supposed to meet him somewhere else; after all, it’s up to the order of the universe, right? A groupie comes looking for the local roué: When asked, “Do you know Picasso?” she answers, “Twice.” And then there’s the old guy who always has to pee. Martin’s trying a tad too hard here, and so are some of the Keegan players who haven’t yet found the tone of the piece. It’s not utter farce, but it’s hardly realistic either—if Einstein and Picasso ever did meet in a Paris bar, which they probably didn’t, they certainly never crooned Motown tunes—and although a couple of characters break the fourth wall from time to time, it’s not particularly avant-garde. Who’s found the secret to this tale of life, the universe, and everything? Susan Marie Rhea, for one: As Germain, she’s both sturdily practical and slyly sensual, and as the play progresses, she gets more and more of Martin’s best scenes. Eric Lucas is likewise a perfect Einstein. He’s a little distracted, a tad stuffy, and gifted with some marvelous insights: “Do you know why the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth? The idea isn’t beautiful enough.” As Picasso, Mark Rhea takes a while to warm up to; he seems a little surfacey, as do many of the other players. But when the production gets its wings going, it’s a delightfully goofy flight. When a surprise visitor—played by Mike Kozemchak, in a royal performance—enters the building, it soars even higher. And in a final three-handed scene, it becomes a meditation on fame that’s downright heavenly.

—Pamela Murray Winters