“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Mud Creek Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile had it’s first full public performance on October 13, 1993 in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre. To quote Mr. Martin, “the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science”. Martin does this in a truly unique and original way, presenting a chopped salad of interesting characters and ideas, imagining a meeting in 1904 of Picasso and Einstein. The plot never moves in one direction toward any gripping conclusion, but rather runs on a variety of courses, much like the “nimble rabbit” alluded to in the name of the bar it is set in.

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The cast of Mud Creek Players’ production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” on the set by Jay Ganz.

Mud Creek Players’ production of the piece is ably directed by Kelly Keller, in his directing debut, with assistance by Mason Odle. Keller does himself proud as all the facets of a solid production are put into place here, with strong character development, a rich understanding of their motives, and wonderful tempo, pacing and rhythms throughout.

The cast is full of new faces, new to me that is. Brad Root (Pablo Picasso) and Justin Lyon (Albert Einstein) present satisfying depictions, brimming with energy and life. Root’s Picasso is an impassioned man – a bit full of himself, but confident and very much alive in the moment. Lyon bears a strong resemblance to the young Einstein, and carries this through with a remarkably vulnerable characterization of the great scientist.

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Savannah Jay as Suzanne and Brad Root as Palo Picasso in Mud Creek Players’ “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”.

Collin Moore makes the most of barfly Gaston with a hilarious rendering of the man and his often absurd observations of life. Monya Wolf does memorable work in the featured role of Germaine, a waitress with strong points of view, and Eric Matters is deftly on the mark as her barkeep/partner, Freddy. Robert C. Boston, Jr. is perfectly cast as opportunist art dealer, Sagot, and Savanna Jay has some wonderful moments as Picasso’s young lover, Suzanne. Also noteworthy is Lexi Odle, who maximizes her brief time on stage with a humorous, well-timed, punch-lined exit.

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Justin Lyon as Albert Einstein in Mud Creek Players’ “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

The play is performed on Jay Ganz’ authentic looking set, with adroit costuming by Tanya Keeler, and lights designed by Collin Moore.

Bottomline: As mentioned earlier, all the facets come together here for what is a thought-provoking, fast-moving and entertaining show. This was Mrs. K’s and my first visit to Mud Creek Players in many years and I hope that this type of production quality will have us returning soon.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile continues at Mud Creek Players through May 6. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.290.5343 or by logging onto http://www.mudcreekplayers.org

  • – Photos by Colman Love

Note: this play is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.

“Rabbit Hole” at Mud Creek Players

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reviewed by Larry Adams

rabbit hole:    

1. a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting, the mentally deranging.

2. something that is intricate or convoluted like a labyrinth and often has no outlet or resolution.

 

Nothing succeeds in community theater like the tried and true comedies, mysteries and musicals; precisely why I appreciate and admire those venues which periodically take a chance on a lesser known, perhaps more challenging (for both the cast and audience) piece. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal and even the necessity of the time-tested standards. Theaters have to “put butts in the seats” to remain solvent, and, as a semi-regular audience member myself, I can attest to the fact that sometimes, after a long week of work, life, and whatever, you really just wanna sit back and be entertained. But I truly feel that it is also the obligation of our local theaters to stretch the minds of their audiences on occasion, to comment on the human condition, and to leave their patrons pondering unanswered questions and possibilities rather than neat and happy endings. Fortunately, Mud Creek Players’ production of Rabbit Hole accomplishes all of these more lofty-sounding goals, while managing to entertain as well.

Just before closing up my office last night and starting the long trek from Zionsville to East 82nd Street for the show, I texted my wife to remind her of my gig as guest reviewer for A Seat on the Aisle and to give her the thumbnail sketch of what I thought I was in for. “A 4-year-old boy is accidentally run over,” I typed, sarcastically adding, “and hilarious hijinks ensue.” You can imagine my surprise to find I was not that far off. That’s because David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning script somehow pulls off an amazing feat: conjuring up that most devastating of human experiences- the loss of a child- and balancing it with a subtle humor that reads as natural, unforced and honest; taking a premise that would seem almost inevitably to lead to either the relentlessly depressing or maudlin, and instead leaving the audience with an experience that is- dare I say- enjoyable while still tugging at the strings of both the mind and the heart.

Credit a fine cast and the deft touch of director Michelle Moore for successfully bringing such a challenging script to the stage. Holly Hathaway (whom I last saw in a flawless performance as part of one of the finest productions I have ever had the pleasure to attend, CCP’s August: Osage County– and, yeah, okay, my mom was in it, but still…) delivers a rich portrayal of Becca, a mother eight months into her struggle to cope with the accidental death of her four-year old son, Danny. In what is a fairly balanced ensemble piece, Ms. Hathaway’s character gives us the widest range of emotions, swinging from laughter to anger to tears, from love to resentment to hopelessness, often within the same scene and always in a manner that seems natural and sincere. Becca’s husband Howie, played by Robert Webster with just the right mix of restraint, frustration and, at times, rage, is the perfect complement to his mate: one ready to move on but holding on to the memories, the other stuck in place and unable to tolerate them.

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From left: Jen Otterman (as Nat), Kimberly Biberstein (Izzy), Holly Hathaway (Becca), Robert Webster (Howie) and Kyle Dorsch (Jason) in a scene from Mud Creek Players’ “Rabbit Hole”.

Kimberly Biberstein gives a spirited, fun performance as Izzy, Becca’s generally care free and irresponsible sister. Though ably carrying much of the humor of the show, Ms. Biberstein still manages to convey that Izzy too has not been immune to the loss of her nephew. The final member of the family on stage, Becca’s and Izzy’s mother Nat, is played by Jen Otterman, and her performance is a true delight. Charmingly flaky, and giving the audience a sense that age has perhaps taken a slight toll on her verbal filters, Nat’s musings on the Curse of the Kennedys provides some welcome, lighthearted moments in the first act, while a touching scene with Becca in the second hints at an underlying wisdom born of carrying a heavy burden for so many years. Taken together, these four characters illustrate the depth of human despair in the face of senseless tragedy, the desperate and disparate attempts to cope and help each other, and the conflicts that inevitably arise.

The one missed note in the roster of characters is Jason, the teenage driver who accidentally causes Danny’s death. This is not, I must emphasize, the fault of the actor, Kyle Dorsche, who I frankly feel plays the role for everything it’s worth. In this case, I blame the author, who admittedly has one more Pulitzer Prize than I do. In a play that is striking for the complexity and authenticity of its characters, Jason’s appearances are distractingly written in one or perhaps two dimensional fashion, drifting between cartoonishly nerdish and almost serial killer creepy. Taking a character whose expected guilt, regret and anguish would seem ripe for development and exploration, the author instead goes for- well, I’m not exactly sure what, really, certainly not comedy relief- with a character who is somehow both prying and oddly detached from the destruction he has caused. If there was a point to be made, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire, I missed it.

The production and the play itself are not without other flaws. A hinted-at affair that screams “PLOT COMPLICATION!” seems to go almost nowhere, and a marriage being slowly ripped apart suddenly appears to make a rebound for no apparent reason. The humor, which requires a subtle touch in its delivery to feel natural and honest, drifts dangerously close to sitcom levels on a couple of occasions, and the second act drags a bit both in material and pacing. These are minor quibbles, however. “Bottomline,” as Mr. Klingenmeier would say: Mud Creek Players has staged a remarkable production of a remarkable show, one that will leave you talking, laughing, crying, and thinking long after the lights have dimmed. I urge you to take a trip down the Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole continues at Mud Creek Players through March 4th. For ticket information and reservations go to http://www.mudcreekplayers.org or call 317-290-5343.

  • – Photo from Mud Creek Players