STORY WRITTEN BY CHERYL THORNBURG
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It takes a genius to put two 20th Century geniuses in a play that touches on some ground-breaking concepts and still make it funny. Steve Martin is that genius. His “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” now on stage at Genesius Theatre in Reading, is the most cerebral comedy I have ever seen. Martin deftly weaves references to famous artists, scientific concepts and philosophy into a casual atmosphere peopled by an eclectic group of characters that bring their own brand of genius to the stage.
At the heart of it all is Martin’s inventive plot which speculates what could have happened if Albert Einstein and a Pablo Picasso had met in a café in Paris – before they were famous.
Nicolas Frees plays Einstein and Joe Swaggerty takes on the role of Picasso in the Genesius’ production.
Frees is charming as the young Einstein on the verge of greatness. His interaction with Swaggerty as Picasso is at the heart of the success of the play.
Swaggerty exudes charisma as the young Picasso whose love of the female form translates into his most famous works. Swaggerty is a Kutztown University grad who made his Genesius debut in “Carrie the Musical,” one of the best productions of 2014.
Kara Snyder, who played the ultimate mean girl in “Carrie,” turns up the heat as Suzanne, who is infatuated with Picasso.
Caleb Scheip, a familiar face on the Genesius stage, brings his unique, over-the-top brand of comedy to the character of Schmendiman, an inventor, but not a genius. You can always count on him for lots of laughs.
Paul Delfin who is reprising his role as Freddy, is comfortable and natural as the bartender who occasionally shows signs of brilliance.
Kelly Schmehl plays his girlfriend Germaine, and the chemistry between the two is fun to watch and very believable.
The cast includes some veteran actors. Chuck Austin gets lots of laughs as Gaston, a café regular who loves drinking and the ladies, but doesn’t have much luck . Mike Pardo is smooth and dynamic as Sagot, Picasso’s agent who is mostly interested in making money – another hallmark of the 20th Century.
Two other actors in this eclectic cast have Kutztown ties: Taylor Clark as the visitor and Abby Hoy as the Countess. Clark delivers a memorable performance as a hip-swinging visitor from the future who wears blue suede shoes.
Hoy, who also is a “Carrie” alum, plays a bubbly version of the countess, who seems to be the only one in sync with Einstein and his logic.
The show is directed by Marjorie Ewald, who also makes a brief on stage appearance at the close of the play. Ewald has put together a cast worthy of taking on the big personalities and ideas in Martin’s play. It is a play that will make you laugh — and think – a rare combination on stage.
IF YOU GO
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” continues Jan. 30 and 31 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. at Genesius Theatre, 153 North 10th St., Reading, PA 19601. For more information, go to www.genesiusdifference.org or call 610-373-9500.
Tickets range from $10-$20 and credit card fees apply. Tickets are also available at the door. The play is rated PG-13.