Students stage Steve Martin comedy

Picasso character pointing pencil at the chest of Einstein character
Daniel Jackson, right, cast as Picasso, challenges Juan España, who portrays Einstein, in the Finger Lakes Community College production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar …

This classic setup is the basis for comedian Steve Martin’s play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which Finger Lakes Community College students will stage on Nov. 15 and 16 at the main campus in Canandaigua.

This long-running off-Broadway absurdist comedy is set at a bar in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris in 1904, a year before Einstein publishes his theory of relativity and Picasso transitions into cubism. Einstein and Picasso have a lengthy discussion about genius and inspiration at the bar, which is named the Lapin Agile, French for nimble rabbit.

Performances will be held in the Student Center Auditorium, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, on Friday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 16 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. General admission is $8; entry for students and seniors is $5. This show is recommended for mature audiences.

Headshot of Juan España
Juan España

Student Juan España II of Penn Yan, cast in the part of Einstein, said he particularly enjoys the moment when the two characters, who begin by squabbling, discover their kinship.

“Einstein doesn’t see art as smart, and Picasso doesn’t see science as beautiful,” he said. “They are both geniuses, but of two different kinds, and they have this moment of recognition.”

“The play is asking if there is a difference between genius and talent,” added Daniel Jackson, of Naples, who plays Picasso.

España said learning to research characters in his acting classes helped him with the conundrum of playing a historical figure at a point in his life when we was still an obscure patent office worker.

Theatre productions are great opportunities for students to apply what they have learned in class. The college’s strategic plan emphasizes the importance of applied learning, particularly as a way to experience FLCC values.

“It’s kind of strange. You are not playing it as the person everyone knows because he hasn’t had his ‘miracle year,’” España said.

In his research, he discovered that Einstein’s father had died three years before Einstein published his groundbreaking papers in theoretical physics. In fact, Einstein had struggled in school out of frustration with the rigidity of formal education.

“Einstein’s father died thinking he was a failure. I let that lead me. How would I feel if I felt my father considered me a failure at the time of his death?”

España, who is pursuing an associate degree in theatre arts, added that his classes also helped him understand how body language conveys personality and emotion. España is Guatemalan and identifies more easily with relaxed Latin mannerisms. To play a German scientist, he keeps his back straighter and moves with a more rigid posture. Ironically, Jackson plays the Spanish painter Picasso, so the pair have traded tips on how move around on stage.

This is Jackson’s first straight play following several musicals, including last year’s FLCC production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He has completed three summer apprenticeships with Bristol Valley Theater and a summer experience with Geva Theatre in Rochester.

Jackson is majoring in music with a long-term goal of composing for musical theater. Taking part in a comedy like “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” helps round out his theater experience.

“I just love this show,” he said. “It’s really funny.” The FLCC cast also includes Gayle Burke of Trumansburg, Adam Cary  of Victor, John Collier of Rochester, Derek Corsner  of Geneva, Julia Corsner of Geneva, Sarah Efing of Caledonia, Evan Jackson of Sodus, Bethan Ouimette of Canandaigua, and Sydney Stell of Penfield. Understudies include Wilson Boyce of Canandaigua, Savannah Butler of Waterloo, Erickah Massey of Rochester, and Archie Thatcher of Batavia. The production team includes Beth Johnson, professor of theatre and director; Francesca Dean, stage management; Jim Perri, scenic design; Roz Maassen, lighting, and Sarah Spindler, costumes.

Author: Lenore Friend

Lenore Friend is the community affairs director at FLCC and the college's liaison with Finger Lakes TV. Contact her at (585) 785-1623 or Lenore.Friend@flcc.edu.