A Man goes to a bar. But while this guy is a pretty nondescript patent writer in his mid-twenties, it would be a mistake to assume he is ordinary. He has some radical ideas about the nature of space and time, and in the coming year – that is, 1905 – they will turn humanity’s conception of the cosmos and its place in it on its head.
Another man enters a bar. Coincidentally, the same Parisian bar where the patent officer is seated. The type, who is also around 20 years old, is not only known to regular guests, but also to the city’s cultural trendsetters. He has made a name for himself as a future-oriented young artist, even if he is still a few years away from becoming a quintet of prostitutes in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This painting becomes a defining work of the Cubist movement and modern art as a whole.
The bar is the Lapin Agile, and the two guys who strolled in on that fateful (and fictional) evening are Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. Their chance encounter and the resulting lively debate form the central arrogance of Steve Martin’s 1993 piece about creativity, commerce, genius and aesthetics. With a supposedly deliberate understatement, it simply means Picasso at Lapin Agile.
“The concept itself is that it’s 1904 and we’ve been hanging out Einstein with Picasso, but nobody understands the meaning. [Einstein] tries to explain that he wrote this book and hopes it will be important. But they say, ‘Does it have pictures? Because pictures sell books, ”says Tracey Vaughan, director of a new staged reading by Lapin agile this weekend.
“While he’s presenting all of these heady concepts, it’s also just really down to earth humor. This woman [Picasso is] Interacting with him is hoping to spend time with him and has this drawing that he has given her. And she says, ‘I’ll never part with it.’ But when he’s basically acting like a misogynist idiot to her, she’ll say, “Okay, $ 50, who wants that?” So there are those moments that are just classic Steve Martin. ”
Vaughan has worked with organizations like the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater, North Idaho College, and the Lake City Playhouse for years, but she directs Lapin agile for a brand new non-profit organization, Drawn Together Arts (DTA). The organization grew out of casual conversation between Blair Williams, the owner of the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, and Duncan Clark Menzies, a local actor who recently moved to the area and works in the gallery.
“Blair talked about creative placemaking and how we give artists and other people platforms to bring energy into spaces,” says Menzies. “She came to me with these ideas, and I came with my ideas about performance and what I want to do with experimental theater. We came up with this idea from Drawn Together Arts.
“The mission is to produce small shows and cabaret that thematically overlap the visual arts in a curated, interactive theater experience, ideas and concepts.”
DTA intends to live up to this mission through regular artist salons. On the third Wednesday of each month, Art Spirit plans an after-hour meeting where sculptors, dancers, painters, actors and representatives of other disciplines discuss a specific topic. The first salon in October took up the topic of attention and why artists would or actually do it should work to captivate their audience.
Another recurring event is cabaret, which combines storytelling with songs and music; this series will begin with a four-day run around Valentine’s Day in mid-February. The works exhibited at Art Spirit will be integrated into the performance.
As the inaugural production of the DTA, Lapin agile will also consist of a kind of dialogue with the place where it takes place.
“You are surrounded by art and we explore the art in the work itself,” says Menzies. “And it’s also curated in the sense that it overlaps with the things in the gallery. Especially for Lapin agile, we have a piece on the air that is a Picasso print. It’s a way of connecting the work to other works that are shown in the room. ”
For this staged reading, Art Spirit also brought a Cubism-inspired piece by Ernest Lothar, a Vienna-born artist and contemporary of Picasso.
“It adds an extra layer,” says Vaughan. “The piece already creates self-references and breaks through the fourth wall with the audience. We’ll be able to do that even more as a kind of ironic response to the fact that we’re in an art gallery, and the piece is about discussing art. ”
“Steve Martin’s humor as a writer is almost better than his humor as an actor. The absurd and existential are part of the fun.”
Martin’s high-low comedy requires 11 characters. In addition to Einstein (played by Michael Schmidt) and Picasso (Oskar Owens) there is bartender Freddie (Leeja Junker), waitress Germaine (Aubrey Shimek Davis) and the grumpy barfly Gaston (Rick Ibarra-Rivera). Sarah Junette Dahmen plays three characters, including Suzanne, Picasso’s abandoned lover; and the countess, Einstein’s love interest. Menzies also plays several roles, including the stingy art dealer Sagot and a mysterious visitor from the future.
“He is never called by his real name,” says Vaughan of the time traveler. “He talks about how he writes songs about love. I’m not sure how to tease it without giving it all away, but he basically gets philosophical with Einstein and Picasso about the future and their roles in it. It is some kind of nod to pop culture, and all of the characters have this absurd conversation about the future of pop culture. ”
This staging of Lapin agile assumes, in Menzies’ words, a special “meta” quality, even – or especially – when real life offers an exception to the commentaries on art.
“I’m just thinking of one reference in the piece where the art dealer talks about the fact that pictures of Jesus and sheep are never sold,” he says. “In the gallery we have several artists who only paint sheep, and they are selling very well.” ♦
Picasso at Lapin Agile • Fri-Sun, 12.-14. November 7:30 pm • $ 20 • The Art Spirit Gallery • 415 Sherman Ave, Coeur d’Alene • drawtogetherarts.com • 208-765-6006