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The 'Lapin' of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Keegan presents star-studded Steve Martin comedy.

Imagine Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in their 20s, meeting at a bar in France in 1904, bonding and sparring over drinks, before they became famous as, respectively, an artist and a physicist.

Toss in Elvis Presley, plus a loud American with his own groupies, and the result is actor and author Steve Martin's wild and crazy comedy, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." That's French for "nimble rabbit," the name of the bar where the play's action takes place.

Westfield High Theatre Director Scott Pafumi is directing the show, presented by the Keegan Theatre at the Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington.

Mark Rhea and Eric Lucas, Keegan's founding directors, portray Picasso and Einstein.

It's Pafuni's first time directing this company, but his wife Helen has acted in three Keegan shows and he's taken his students to their productions. Rhea asked him to direct, and Pafumi chose this play and pre-cast several of the parts. Although different for Pafumi to direct professional actors, things are going well. "Out of the cast of 12, seven have been working together for years. So there's already an established camaraderie and chemistry with each other," he said.

"It's a smart play about the connection between art, science and philosophy, and it's got a lot of great comic bits and lines," said Pafumi. "And I think the audience will really enjoy the writing and the comic send-up of the characters."

Seventeen performances will be offered between July 27-Aug. 19.

IT'S SAID that things often come in threes so, naturally, the play ponders who'll be the third superperson to bond with Einstein and Picasso — the musician or the fool. And it all unfolds with lots of laughter, dancing, dreaming and even some romance.

Rhea, of Arlington, describes his Picasso as complicated. "At the beginning of the play, he's brooding and frustrated — stuck in his Blue Period," said Rhea. "But he's still a lady's man and has a lot of control — a raw, gutsy way of being — while poetic. When Picasso's painting, 'Three Ladies in a Mask,' comes down in the bar, it gets him thinking about his future."

Rhea said the role's fun on many, different levels. "I like playing someone who's hard-edged and not a nice guy because I'm not that in real life," he said. "And I'm acting with my wife and best friend, Susan, on stage [she plays Germain] and also pulling the young kids into the professional world and letting them see what it's like."

He's also pleased with the energy between himself and Lucas (Einstein) during the play and advises audience members to "just enjoy the experience, instead of analyzing" what happens. If so, said Rhea, they'll be delighted by "the comedic timing and wittiness of Martin's writing."

LUCAS, OF Washington, D.C., says his Einstein, 25, is "a clerk in a patent office, but has ideas about everything and was writing his theory of relativity at the time. Picasso has Spanish bravado; Einstein has more etiquette."

He loves the part because Einstein has "lots of good, joke lines and is a nice guy. He's observant and listens to everything. He and Picasso are antagonistic about their art and have battles of will and wit until they discover their approach to science and art is common ground. Then they become brothers; their beliefs are the same, just coming from opposite ends."

The toughest part, said Lucas, is "giving something new to everyone's concept of Einstein before he became the rock star of science and was just a person." But he especially likes "the intelligence of the character and the script. It's a fun ride, and it gets all the heady issues out there, but it's painless."