The University of Saskatchewan’s drama department is set to launch its 2015–16 Greystone Theatre season with Picasso at the Lapin Agile, by comedian and actor Steve Martin.
Picasso is primarily a dialogue between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso set in Montmartre, Paris in 1904, one year before Einstein published his theory of special relativity and three years before Picasso painted “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” A minimal supporting cast, including a mystery guest credited only as “Visitor,” joins them in a rapid-fire deluge of wit and insults in a clever amalgamation of the arts and science.
Fourth-year drama students Jessie Kraus and Ivan Kolosnjaji star as Einstein and Picasso, respectively, and their off-stage rapport with one another is as warm and amicable as can be.
“It’s been nice to play rivals, and friends,” Kraus said of his on-stage chemistry with Kolosnjaji.
Kraus and Kolosnjaji reminisced about the rehearsal process and built off of each other’s answers in what was less of an interview and more of a friendly chat. Their compatibility adds a warm-spirited intimacy of familiar banter and quirky antics to the play as a whole.
Kraus remarked on the personality of his character, Einstein.
“He is very much a child. He’s kind of a womanizer. He wants to be the smartest guy, always to be right,” Kraus said.
Kolosnjaji agreed that the same is true of Picasso.
“Women are all his life. It’s interesting that Steve Martin picked these characters because they’re very much alike,” Kolosnjaji said.
Martin faced criticism when the play premiered in 1993 and in 2008. La Grande High School in La Grande, Ore. banned its production, objecting to the adult themes of the story. Martin responded in a letter to the La Grande newspaper The Observer in a sarcastic fashion.
“I have heard that some in your community have characterized the play as ‘people drinking in bars and treating women as sex objects.’ With apologies to William Shakespeare, this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle,” he wrote.
Martin expanded further, explaining that he feels the play’s message about the importance of arts and sciences is invaluable to the youth of today. He is enthusiastic about students discovering the values of both fields.
“Acting in the play … may help them to understand the potency, power and beauty of the arts and sciences,” Martin wrote.
Martin felt so strongly that he ended up funding an off-campus production by himself so that students would still have an opportunity to participate. This enthusiasm for the advocacy of the arts and of science is shared by Kraus and Kolosnjaji.
“I do hope the science community and the mathematicians and physicists come see this show,” Kraus said, adding that he wants as many people to attend as possible, due to the wide-reaching appeal of the story.
Kolosnjaji talked about the process of inhabiting his role, saying he watched videos of Picasso painting to learn his mannerisms and little quirks. He described an anecdote about Picasso’s time in Paris that particularly informed the character. Upon returning home from Paris, Picasso was distraught to find out that his mother had washed his clothes and cleaned the dust of Paris off his jacket.
“That’s how much he loved Paris,” Kolosnjaji said with a warm affection in his voice.
Both actors spoke highly of the script and the exquisiteness of Martin’s humour. Kraus admitted jokingly that he didn’t even get some of the jokes until last week and Kolonsnjaji agreed, acknowledging the subtlety of the humor. Both were hardly able to contain their excitement to perform the show.
“I smiled so much while doing this. I never regretted being here at night, I always wanted to be here,” Kraus said, emphasizing with a grin how much fun the rehearsal process was.
Kraus and Kolonsjaji shared a look that perfectly exemplified what makes the arts so special — the passion, enthusiasm and absolute adoration for performing and devouring art, a little refuge away from the world open for everyone. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is shaping up to be a universally appealing start to the Greystone Theatre’s season.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile will run from Oct. 7–17. For more information, visit artsandscience.usask.ca/drama/greystone.