There’s an odd theatrical subgenre in which historical figures have unexpected meetings. The allure is clear for the playwright. You’re looking for interesting people to populate the work, and if you can imagine Sigmund Freud chatting with Salvador Dali (“Hysteria”) or C.S. Lewis (“Freud’s Last Session”), the battle is half won.
In “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” actor/comedian/writer Steve Martin teams the 20th century’s most influential artist with its most influential scientist. The play, an often funny and sometimes insightful look at the start of an intellectual and social revolution, receives a solid production in the hands of the Chameleon Theatre Circle.
Martin sets the action in a Paris cafe. One evening, young patent clerk Albert Einstein (A.J. Swanson) shows up, waiting for a date. He is soon joined by Pablo Picasso (Justin David Cervantes), in the full flower of his early artistic explorations. As they engage with patrons, we see what connects these two very different men who bent — and broke — the way we perceive our world. Those moments of insight are not just startling, but moving.
Martin’s love of the absurd goes back to his stand-up days, and there’s enough of that here to fill a Samuel Beckett play (without the existential angst). Director Daniel K. McDermott and his game cast play these moments with a light touch, so they remain tied to the characters and don’t turn this into some kind of extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 25.
Where: Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $22-$25. 952-232-0814, chameleontheatre.org.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities critic.