Smile Politely

Picasso to swing by downtown any minute now…

C-U’s newest bar, the Lapin Agile, a name which I’m told is literally French for “Nimble Rabbit” (thanks, Babelfish!), is currently under construction at the Station Theatre, a former railway depot on Broadway near downtown Urbana.

And this isn’t exactly some “magic of theatre” crap either.

If director Mikel Matthews had gotten his way, the Celebration Company’s latest production at the Station, Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, would feature a full bar complete with tables and stools for the audience. This proved a bit impractical, apparently.

Matthews still hopes to immerse the audience in an early-twentieth century tavern where you might just sit down and strike up a conversation with Einstein (in a sort of before-they-were-famous scenario) or nobody, about what genius means or whether your bladder should be working the way it’s working.

In short, it’s what made Steve Martin equally adept as a Smothers Brothers writer, a wild-and-crazy-guy, and a Grammy-winning banjoist: wit, silliness, showmanship, and intelligence. And, if Matthews’ execution and track-record at the theatre (this is the man who brought Zombie Prom and Full Monty to our community!) are any indication, it sounds like he’ll be able to take us there.

Quoth the Director: “There’s an honesty that’s possible in the Station Theatre that I love. Strip away the artifice and you’re much closer to actually being there, in the space.” Even if you can’t actually order booze amidst the farce.

The show, which pulls the pre-fame Einstein’s bar stool up to a barely-famous Picasso’s counter, also provides the audience with a strong ensemble cast of characters whose own brilliance and strength promises to overshadow those of the would-be geniuses. What is science, what is art, what is important, what is self-congratulatory, what is unimportant, what is popular and where do they all meet? And there are jokes. 

It’s all a bit strange. Like a good night of drinking with that friend from out of town who’s just — God, he’s so good, so smart, and you know, he’s gonna be the next big thing man, because that’s what this decade needs, man, this guy right here, because this is the twenty-first century and forget the guitar, the mbira is going to revolutionize how we conceive music in the new era.  It could happen, man.

Artist Dana Major will produce a Picasso replication for the play. I only hope it melds well with what promises to be a set design that seamlessly marries the comfortably unassuming ambience of a classier, quieter Crane Alley with the allure that history could give any aspiring local legends.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile runs June 3rd-19th at the Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway in Urbana.


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