Josh Perkins brings Picasso to life in Soulstice’s “Lapin Agile”
Steve Martin's absurdist comedy, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," imagines a meeting between the title character and Einstein, at the dawn of the 20th century.
This Friday, Soulstice Theatre opens Picasso at the Lapin Agile, an absurdist comedy by Steve Martin about a fictionalized meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. Playing the title role is actor Josh Perkins, Soulstice’s vice-president and a regular on their stage. TCD staff writer Gene Cawley sat down with Perkins in advance of the show’s premiere to talk about embodying one of the 20th century’s most famous painters and what audiences have to look forward to from the show.
Gene Cawley: What made you choose Picasso at the Lapin Agile for Soulstice’s next production?
Josh Perkins: Char Manny [Soulstice’s artistic director] has her own bucket list of shows to direct and produce. This was definitely one of them. When she put it up on the board, we thought, “Well, Steve Martin’s a great guy and it seems like a great piece.” And I know one of the reasons she chose it — and one of the things I particularly like about it — is that it’s a play that’s looking forward in regards to what is about to happen, as opposed to plays which use historical characters to look back to see how things were. It’s a very clever use of these characters looking forward to the century they’re about to embark upon. It’s clever, silly, and very intelligent. There is some extremely subtle scientific humor that will probably go over many people’s heads.
GC: What was the most challenging part of staging it?
JP: There’s kind of a big reveal, which contains the one big special effect in the play. We worked through Mainstage Theatrical Supply. They have some great special effects, lighting effects. You always try to get it as close to the script as possible, but when you’re a company of our size, you can’t always have an effect where a wall flies off the set when the actual wall is just a foot or two behind it. But it’s the feel, the heart of it that we try to capture. We had a great technical team for this one. The set went up like a dream, nice and easy. And we’ve got a good core group of people who are always very helpful and donate a lot of their time to make it happen.
JP: It’s a completely different tone. I was the stage manager for Betrayals; I was there throughout that whole process, and it’s a completely different approach. So much is communicated in between the lines with Harold Pinter. It’s what’s not said that is obvious. And then going to Lapin Agile where Picasso comes in and dominates the room with his language, the way Steve Martin has written him. It’s completely different. It’s a romp. It’s back and forth. It’ll make you think, and it’ll make you giggle because of the ridiculousness of some of the jokes. But they all work.
GC: Did you study Picasso very closely to get into the role, or did you find it almost counter-intuitive because this is “Steve Martin’s Picasso”?
JP: I did do some research just to figure out what he was, what he was like. It’s a pretty easy thing to do; he was one of the first “rock star” artists of the last century. So I watched some documentaries and read some basic facts just to see who he was, how he treated people. And Steve Martin pulled off a pretty precise representation of Picasso’s character, even though it’s fictionalized. Based on the research that I had done, he was very true to the character. The Einstein character is written wonderfully as well, as is the Visitor — the other famous character that remains unnamed, but that most people will probably recognize. It’s a great cast; it’s been a really fun rehearsal process, putting the show together.
GC: Was it disorienting playing Picasso against Albert Einstein?
JP: Not so much. It was kind of fun. At first, Picasso dismisses Einstein because he’s not an artist. Then, after talking to Einstein more, Picasso realizes they are far more similar in the way they think than Picasso initially realized. It’s fun to chart that path. It begins with the butting of heads, an exchanging of ideas between two big egos.
GC: What’s next for Soulstice Theatre?
JP: After this, Soulstice’s next production is a Woody Allen play called God. It’s a hilarious, crazy, silly romp. It’s pure Woody Allen. You can just hear him reading some of the lines. It has a large cast, about 10 people. Some of the characters have STDs for names, just running around asking, “What is God?” and examining deus ex machina and just being silly. It’s a self-referential piece. It’s kind of another play that points to the fact that there is a play going on.
After God is a much more serious production: Still Life by Alexander Dinelaris, which is a soul-crushingly beautiful show basically about death — how people deal with it, how they portray it, how they react to it. It’s a wonderfully written play that’s just devastatingly beautiful. I’m really looking forward to that one. And, speaking of technically challenging, in June, we’re doing Metamorphosis in rep with another show at the same time. That’s going to be the humungous closing of the whole season.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile opens at the Soulstice Theater Friday, Nov. 7, and runs through Nov. 23. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; see the full schedule and purchase tickets online, or call (414) 481-2800.