Two new local productions offer us a chance to see art reflecting life; one through the eyes of geniuses, the other through the genius of chance meeting.
First, the Conejo Players’ new production of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile proves that turn-of-the-century artists and a world-famous physicist can be hilarious — and who’d have thought they could fit all those theories into such a relatively short time?
Just ask Einstein.
Set designer Rick Steinberg delivers us into the infamous artists’ bar in 1904 Paris where the 20th century’s brightest minds are hatching ideas. Its walls embellished with the artwork of the Studio Channel Islands Art Center, Steinberg’s atmosphere is a dank and welcoming bohemian vibe.
Lori Lee Gordon dressed a talented cast in lovely, functional period outfits, and one loud suit for one loud character named Schmendiman (R. Shane Bingham), who claims to have created a sturdy, functional material that will make him world-renowned. Heard of him?
But Picasso’s real star isn’t Picasso himself (a suave Clayton McInerney), or even Elvis (James Cluster), who is still in the building and traveled thru time to snap selfies with the masters. The real stars are the theories of art coupled with the theories of science, and the merging of the two like DNA — intertwined, dependent. Even when Picasso and Albert Einstein (Matt DeNoto) whip out pencils and have a duel, one creating art and the other mathematical theory, Einstein explains that both must have beauty.
Animation designer Tim Reese treats audiences with insights into the creators’ minds, projected onto the set as Picasso’s drawings and the mathematics being whipped up in Einstein’s head.
Anchoring the cast is Gary Cunial’s steady Gaston, an older Frenchman with quick replies and an equally impatient bladder; a sassy barmaid and part-time muse appropriately named Germaine (Amie Woolweber) and art dealer Sagot (Patrick Rogers), who supplies his artists with an audience while swinging a healthy profit.
Martin’s humor is exactly as one would expect: intelligent, absurd and with an occasional groaner. But Picasso is not a pedestrian play; rather it leaves its audience feeling enriched, educated and entertained by the minds of masters.
Meanwhile, a different kind of brain child takes stage at the Elite Theatre Company, the fruit of director John Eslick’s tireless effort to bring four thoroughly written characters to local audiences.
Where Picasso is polished and filled with artistic celebrity, Peaches en Regalia reflects the art of mastering the daily tasks of living, loving and cherishing every moment spent with people we sometimes meet through very unexpected circumstances.
Like Picasso, Peaches’ four characters meet in a small diner where waitress Peaches (a charming Brittany Danyel) spills dessert across Norman (George Coe). He goes to clean up in the men’s room and meets Syd (local teacher Scott Groenveld), a soon-to-be-lifelong friend, and Joanne (the charmingly nervous Jenna Scanlon) at the cleaners. Four opening monologues become one beautifully intertwined story of lives merging at a critical juncture.
Fast-forward five years: Syd and Joanne are married while Peaches is nudging Norman to have their first child. In fact, before he’s even out of his jammies Norman is holding his newborn son.
Life is not to be missed but embraced now, and both Picasso and Peaches give audiences a chance to be enriched, charmed and hopefully inspired.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, through May 31 at Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 495-3715 or www.conejoplayers.org.
Peaches en Regalia through May 25 at Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard, 483-5118 or www.elitetheatre.org.