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Picasso at the Lapin Agile
by Ray Compton
Steve Martin recently made a one-night stop in Indianapolis, appearing with comical sidekick Martin Short at Old National Centre.
His play – Picasso at the Lapin Agile -- will have a much longer stay at the Mud Creek Theatre (www.mudcreekplayers.com). It starts a three weekend run on Friday, April 21, and continues through May 6.
Be prepared for a wild and crazy event. Neither Martin nor his banjo will be on the stage with the Mud Creek players, but the legendary actor’s presence will be billowing throughout the performance which has Martin’s trademark humor stamped on it throughout the two hours. Think of Martin’s writings on the Smothers Brothers Show or his honoring of King Tut on Saturday Night Live or his big screen appearances in The Jerk or Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
You are now entering the Picasso at the Lapin Agile Zone.
“Martin is an absurdist in his writing,” analyzed director Kelly Keller. “In this play, he breaks through the fourth wall and makes fun of everything. Steve Martin’s comedy comes at you from all different directions. It can be in your face or very subtle. It appeals to a lot of people.”
So, let’s start over with some of the elements included in this dandy theater, which takes place on one October night in 1904 in a French restaurant in Paris’ Montmartre, the Lapin Agile (French: Nimble Rabbit). The storyline revolves around the meeting between two 20-something geniuses who are on the verge of exploding on the world stage. Those two are a couple of still unknowns -- painter Pablo Picasso, a 23-year-old charismatic serial womanizer, and a socially-stunted 25-year-old Albert Einstein.
Neither has yet to uncover their greatness (Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity or Picasso’s master painting of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), but both are long into debate and discussion between the differences of genius and talent. Keep in mind that the play spurts from Martin’s creativity and did not actually happen.
“It’s a great story on how they may have met and if they did meet, how they may have interacted,” said Keller. “It’s an opportunity to see how they may have argued and how they may have reconciled after stating their theories and opinions.”
Bringing live to Picasso and Einstein will be veteran Mud Creek players Brad Root (Picasso) and Justin Lyon (Einstein). Both will also be called upon to provide heavy accents (Picasso in French/Spanish and Einstein in German/Polish).
And each will be forced to assign their preferred personality traits of the two heavyweights who lived when there was little or no film of the two.
“There is very, very little on Picasso,” said Root, 27, who has returned to Indianapolis after a tour of New York. “He didn’t talk about himself. He is shown looking at his paintings and you try to show how he expressed himself as he studied his paintings.”
However, something that has survived the years is the thinking that Picasso was not afraid to approve of himself, particularly when it comes to pursuing women (as he does in Lapin Agile and in conversation with Einstein).
“He is full of himself,” assessed Boyd. “When he was young, women were always praising him and showering him with compliments. He’s can’t deny his talent.”
Meanwhile, Einstein is less confident in his social skills but oozing with sprit when it comes to his theories and view of life.
“He is interested in learning things,” said Lyon. “He comes across as thoughtful and carrying but also human. He understands that life is not all in a laboratory.”
And Martin has skillfully turned the 1993 play into beyond as esoteric performance by introducing a cadre of actors that connect with the two. Those troopers include:
• Freddy (Eric Matters) the Bartender, who seems dim-witted but springs up with stunning responses.
• Gaston (Collin Moore) the aging Frenchman, who has a prostate problem but prefers to talk about sex and drinking.
• Germaine (Monya Wolf) the Waitress, who is now Freddy’s girlfriend but who has bedded with Picasso.
• Suzanne (Savannah Jay) another sexual partner of Picasso who is frustrated that he does not remember her.
• Sagot (Robert Boston, Jr.) the Art Dealer, who is hustle to sell his partners product.
• Charles Dabernow Schmendiman (Zach Holoski) the Inventor, who has huge dreams but little talent.
• Countess (Susan Hill), who Einstein finds attractive.
• Female Admirer (Lexi Odle), who has an attraction toward Picasso or maybe Schmendiman.
• The Visitor (Brock Francis) the Big Ol’ Country Boy, who may remind you of a singer from Memphis.
“The jokes are on so many levels,” said Lyon, who acting resume includes the time he starred last fall in the Sensuous Senator at the Barn. During one scene in a closet, Lyon became violently ill and feinted. Lyon exited stage right and Keller filled in for the last reading.
“There is bathroom humor and there are thoughtful jokes,” said Lyon, now healthy. “It is a celebration of differences. Everyone who likes a form of comedy will like it. People will be engaged with laughter.”
Of course, that final responsibility falls on Keller, who is directing his first play. He admits he is also protecting the scripting skills of Martin, whom he has long admired.
“His comedy and wit are something that I have always enjoyed, “said Keller. “I remember seeing him with an arrow through his head while in a white suit and banjo. I want to do justice to his play and ensure we draw out the many nuances of his writing.”
Indeed, the Martin personality is loud and clear in Picasso at the Lapin Agile. For instance, the San Diego Union-Tribune acknowledged that “Steve Martin tosses in goofy anachronisms and wordplay and convention-flouting twists with the distractible glee of a kid discovering new toy.”
Or as Boyd stated simply, “It’s not historic realism, but it is just very funny.”
Interview with Director Kelly Keller of Picasso at the Lapin Agile
by Ray Compton
Ray Compton: What are your biggest challenges and why?
Kelly Keller: My biggest challenge with this play have been my lack of theater experience. I got into theater two years ago. Before that, I had no theater experience. I've been in a number of plays and have been an assistant director but this is my first opportunity to direct.
Ray Compton: What makes this play special and why?
Kelly Keller: I read a lot of plays when I was encouraged to submit one that I could direct. I wanted to do something that I felt comfortable with and that I thought an audience would enjoy. This play, recommended to me, is one that has many levels of humor - some direct and in your face, others subtle and thoughtful. It's written by Steve Martin, someone I'm a big fan of, and uses well known real life persons in a situation that could have happened. This play mixes both reality and fantasy. It's immediately familiar and comfortable to someone who sees it while telling a story you don't know.
Ray Compton: How do you describe the play?
Kelly Keller:It's a story of Einstein and Picasso right before both of them did the works they area most famous for. It's a great story of how they may have met and if they did, how they would have interacted. It's an opportunity to see how both of them might have met each other, argued over which one of them will contribute more to the future, and reconcile becoming friends and respecting each others work.
Ray Compton: What is your approach? What will you do to make it work?
Kelly Keller:I've had the opportunity to work with a number of great directors. I've tried to take what I've seen work well for them and resonated with me as an actor. By day I manage large teams of individuals so collaboration is important to me. A play is a group effort. Our play will be a collaboration. My goal is to provide an opportunity for each member of the cast and crew to be successful.
Ray Compton: Do you feel like you are Steve Martin?
Kelly Keller:While I certainly don't have his level of talent, I've been a fan since I first saw Steve do his original comedy routines. I remember seeing him with an arrow through his head while in a white suit with a banjo. I've enjoyed his many movies such as Three Amigos and Father of the Bride. He is someone I grew up with. His comedy and wit are something I enjoy. I want very much to do justice to his play and ensure we draw out the many nuances of his writing.
Ray Compton: Why did you select the people you did to play Einstein and Picasso?
Kelly Keller:I had been the assistant director for Tom Jones and help cast Justin Lyons in several of the roles. He was fantastic in his variety of roles and even played a woman! When I decided to submit Picasso, I immediately thought of him as Einstein. When I got approved to direct, I made sure I invited him to auditions. He came in already looking like Einstein and nailed his audition.
For Picasso, I had reached out to several folks I though might fit but I knew the role required someone who could play many moods - confident, vulnerable, seductive. Brad Root, who leads our summer camp program at Mud Creek, came in and was able to show that variety. There was no question that he was Picasso. My co-director, Mason Odle, and I were thrilled to cast him.
Ray Compton: Were you familiar with the play? Have you seen other presentations, etc.
Kelly Keller:I'd read a lot of plays when considering submitting one to direct. I wasn't familiar with Picasso until Andrea Odle suggested I look at it. I knew Steve Martin did comedy, movies, and music, but I wasn't familiar with his plays. When I read the play, I immediately knew I wanted to submit it. I knew from previous productions at Mud Creek that we would be able to use our large space and put on something truly special.
Ray Compton: Is there anything you wish to add on the play?
Kelly Keller:I've been lucky. Our turnout for auditions was great and I've had tons of support from the Mud Creek Membership, the Mud Creek Board, and others in theater I've met. The theater community in the area is strong and very supportive of each other. I'm thrilled with the cast and crew that we have and I've been laughing from the very first day of rehearsal. I love the process. It's great to see something go from paper to actors becoming the characters, and in this case, the real life characters in the play. I love the moment when an actor takes a suggestion and realizes it in their own way.
Ray Compton: I know this is your first directorship…what plays have you assisted directing and which plays have you acted in?
I was the assistant director for Tom Jones with Aaron Cleveland. I've been in a number of plays.
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