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Einstein Meets Picasso

Play by Steve Martin is a comedy of ideas.

Steve Martin might have named the play "Einstein at the Lapin Agile" rather than "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," for the actor playing Einstein in the new production playing through Feb. 4 at the Little Theatre of Alexandria makes that part shine while the actor playing Picasso leaves that role a bit lusterless.

Yes, but what does "the Lapin Agile" refer to and why would Einstein and Picasso, who never actually met, be in the same play? The Lapin Agile is the name of a small bar in the Montmontre section of Paris and Martin's play imagines what would have happened had these two icons of the 20th century happened to stop in for a drink on the same night in 1904.

Martin, has written many a television sketch, teleplay and screenplay, but he's best known as the comedian and actor familiar to everyone who has watched much television or attended many movies in the past quarter century.

THIS ONE-ACT PLAY was his first play meant for the stage and it was an instant success when first produced in 1993 and has been produced by many professional and community theaters since then. Its success is due to the uniqueness of its concept, the cleverness of its dialogue and the mixture of wacky comedy and intriguing intellectual ideas.

At heart it is a debate between the proponents of art and those of science, as if those two avenues of the human mind were mutually exclusive. The argument is between Picasso who believes a revolution in art will be the important feature of the 20th century, and Einstein who believes it will be the scientific advances that mark the century.

It is the comic skill of Martin that keeps this from being a dry

intellectual exercise. Instead, it is a fun and funny short evening (the one-act play takes about 90 minutes to perform) with many more characters than just Einstein and Picasso.

Diane Mislevy is a delight to watch as a young woman looking for Picasso, and Scott Strasbaugh is a kick as a person who believes his own personal importance will eclipse either art or science as the shining star of the new century. Graham Taglang has his own fine moments as the surprise claimant for the title "icon of the century."

ALSO CONTRIBUTING to the enjoyment of the evening are Robert R. Heinly as the bartender and Rusty O'Connor as the barmaid.

In the key roles of the artist and scientist are Michael Andrews who sends sparks flying throughout the evening as Einstein and Matthew Hartman whose portrayal of Picasso sparks at a few key moments but seems to sag a bit at others.

Director Michael A. Toscano lets the pace of the piece drag a bit, especially during some of the heated argument scenes when Martin's logic and wit tumble out. He has the benefit, however, of another of the Little Theatre of Alexandria's substantial sets designed by their uniquely credited MYKE.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region, which is available at www.PotomacStages.com. He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.