Picasso, Einstein meet in Steve Martin comedy at Citadel
It's 1904, and two of the greatest minds of the 20th century are about to publish work that will change the way the world thinks about physics and art -- and all sorts of other things -- for the next 100 years.
Albert Einstein was 25 years old and a year away from publishing his theory of relativity. Pablo Picasso was a mere 23 years old and about to begin the cubist movement that would dramatically break from the past and open up art to innovative approaches.
In the comedy "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," which Lake Forest's Citadel Theatre is performing April 20 to May 22, playwright Steve Martin imagines a meeting between Picasso and Einstein at a real-life artists' hangout in Paris. What would they talk about? Would they get along? And would the colorful and eccentric patrons of the bar have any idea what these two men are about to accomplish?
So how do Director Scott Phelps and his actors create characters that acknowledge the things we think we know about Einstein and Picasso while filling in the blanks on what we don't know?
"It's about knowing who Einstein became and how to present him on stage as an origin story of some sort," said Mark Yacullo, a native of Naperville, seen recently as Seymour in Metropolis Arts Center's "Little Shop of Horrors," who plays Einstein.
"He was already doing work at an early age, but he hadn't become mainstream to the general public by the time of the action of this play. I've been listening to a ton of podcasts about him and how he was perceived, and trying to personify him in a way that's in sync with the public's view of him and my personal view.
"I have had a blast trying to put all this research onstage and making him my own, while maintaining the core ideology that is Albert Einstein for the audience."
Travis Ascione, who plays Picasso, said, "One of the first things I did was pick up a biography by Arthur L. Miller called 'Einstein, Picasso.' The book takes a comparative look at the two men from their early days into the more well-known periods of their lives.
"In addition to that, I took a look at a lot of Picasso's early work up until his Blue Period. I wanted to get an understanding of how he was experimenting with his art in relation to what was happening around him."
Background research on the real-life Picasso and Einstein, though, is only part of the challenge. Yacullo and Ascione are also relishing the chance to play these characters through the wacky point-of-view of Steve Martin.
"My dad is a fan of Steve Martin, so I inherited a deep appreciation for his specific brand of humor very early in life," Ascione said.
"Before starting work on this play, I primarily knew Martin from SNL reruns and his movies, but this script is a real joy to work with. At one moment the ideas and language are beautiful and profound, and then the very next beat is utterly absurd and hysterically funny. And, of course, because it's Steve Martin, the whole experience is intensely fun. We do a lot of laughing in rehearsals."
Yacullo agrees. "I love the wacky absurdist view Steve Martin brings to this script and the characters," he said. "His whole show is basically the beginning of a really good bar joke: 'So Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar and ...'"
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile" will play at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, April 20 to May 23. Tickets and more information are available at www.citadeltheatre.org or by calling (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.