Owens production is fresh take on Steve Martin playWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The setting is a tiny bar in Paris, circa 1904. Two men who will soon change and shape the century that is to follow will have a chance meeting: Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
“One of the things that makes this encounter so interesting is that you have two notorious people from the 20th century who changed history coming at it from very different perspectives, very different kinds of inspiration,” said Jeremy Meier, assistant professor of theater at Owens Community College.
This fictional meeting is the premise of the play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” written by actor/comedian Steve Martin. Meier is directing a production of the comedy that will be performed at Owens’ Center for Fine and Performing Arts’ Mainstage Theatre on Nov. 17-20.
Meier, who teaches the majority of theater classes at the college, said that he sees productions as an important part of the students’ learning process.
“I think of the student production season as a supplement to what the students have in the classroom. A lot of focus on character study, possibilities for physical movements — the production itself is a valuable tool for students to have learning opportunities in the classroom applied to an actual production,” Meier said.
This is not Meier’s first time visiting the Lapin Agile. Eight years ago, he directed a production of the show in Columbus, where he had just finished his Master of Fine Arts degree at The Ohio State University.
He’s worked at Owens for the past four years, directing student productions — one in the fall, one in the spring. Last year, when the department was considering shows for the 2011-12 season, he presented “Picasso” as a possibility.
“They overwhelmingly wanted to do this one because of the challenges that the design offered them artistically, and also because of the unique performance opportunity,” Meier said.
The auditions took place in September. Though the show is largely an ensemble piece, with Picasso and Einstein just two parts of a larger cast of characters, Meier said those two roles in particular presented some challenges.
“Einstein and Picasso are two of the more difficult roles to cast, because the audience has specific expectations of what they will look like, what they’ll sound like, what their personalities might be, just based on their reputation,” he said.
The show is also challenging to its performers in its tone. While filled with tremendously funny moments and surprises, “Picasso” also has a fair share of poignancy and surrealism at its core. The actors frequently break the famous “fourth wall” and converse with the audience over the course of the show, for example.
“There is a challenge in that, because we rehearse it for five weeks where the actors are working on it, and they have a three-person audience — myself and the two stage managers,” Meier said. “That’s something that the actors have to have an awareness of, building a much larger space and reaching a very live and very responsive audience.”
The challenges extend to the technical aspects of the performance for Meier and his crew, as well. The bar set the show takes place in has been given its own surrealist touch, almost emulating the title artist’s own Cubist tendencies. It was an approach, Meier explained, that began from looking at photographs of the actual Lapin Agile, a real Paris bar that exists to this day.
“It’s a real dive-kinda looking kind of place,” he said. “A really kinda dirty looking bar. I was surprised. Rather than going for a literal representation of that, we wanted to come at that from an aspect of abstraction.”
But the focus will still be on the colorful and memorable characters who populate the space — not least of which being the fantasy versions of two geniuses who impacted the coming century in ways no one could have possibly imagined.
“The playwright purposefully has these two guys roughly around 25 years old, just before their genius is recognized and realized — it’s a year before the Theory of Relativity is published, a few years before Cubism. It’s about characters on the brink,” Meier said.
“Because the audience is very often acknowledged and addressed, I think possibly the playwright wants the audience to think about what will become of the 21st century.”
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” will be performed at the Owens’ Mainstage Theatre on Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 for the general public and $8 for Owens staff and students. For more information, contact the College for Performing Arts at (567) 661-2787.