Martin play brings question of genius to WBU stage

PLAINVIEW – Comedian and actor Steve Martin has kept audiences in stitches for decades with his standup comedy routines and hilarious movie roles. But beneath the physical comedy and acting antics lies a talented writer as well.

It is his first play that shows another side of Martin’s humor and, Dr. Marti Runnels feels, will entertain audiences as the lead-off hitter for the 2007-08 season of the Wayland Baptist University Theatre department.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile will open on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29, with repeat performances on Oct. 5 and 6. A dinner theatre production, the show will begin at 8 p.m. in Harral Studio Theatre following an Italian meal catered by Carino’s on the Harral Auditorium stage.

The piece, which garnered the Outer Critics Circle Award for the Best Off-Broadway Play, shows a more thoughtful humor to Martin as he pits two of the best-known thinkers of the 20th century together in a fictitious meeting. Physicist Albert Einstein and artist Pablo Picasso meet in a Paris café in 2904, musing over the century’s achievements and prospects as well as other topics.

“What I love about this play is the notion of what makes the work of a genius, which is always a fascinating subject and is often controversial as well,” said Runnels, Director of Theatre at WBU. “We dealt with this topic a little in the play Art, but this goes a little further.”

Picasso, who Runnels calls “one of the most prolific artists of his time who became popular and acclaimed during his lifetime,” must deal with his fame and the reactions of those around him in the play. Likewise, Einstein’s work involved new ideas that also were lauded by the scientific community.

But were they both geniuses? And was one more genius than the other?

“What we do know is that both men changed the face of the planet forever,” Runnels said. “Even if you know nothing about either of them, you’ll still enjoy this play.”

While the play may feature a fictitious meeting of the two thinkers – Runnels said as far as history tells, there was no personal connection between the two – the issues they raise and the events that unfold around them create some great comedic moments.

Runnels said he first read Picasso several years ago, but has been a longtime fan of Martin’s work. During his college years at William Jewell, Runnels said he often memorized Martin’s skits and would entertain on campus with his routines. In fact, to some on campus, he was known only as “Steve.”

Many years have passed since those days, but Runnels’ fondness for Martin’s work still holds true. And his fondness for this comedic play parallels that.

Taking the lead role of Picasso will be junior Jordy Williams of Shallowater, an English major who also had the lead in last year’s production of Terra Nova. Peter Bourland, a theatre major from Tucson, Ariz., who appeared in last spring’s Shorts, plays the role of Einstein.

Others in the cast include WBU theatre veterans Thomas Hoffman, a theatre major from Wasilla, Alaska, as Freddy; theatre major Grant Jasper of Argyle as Gaston; theatre minor Khrystyne Eckerd of Ruidoso, N.M., as Germaine; theatre minor Rachel Morgan of Plainview as Suzanne; Dr. David Howle, associate professor of religion, as Sagot; theatre minor Jessie Else of Weiser, Idaho, as The Countess. Newcomers include freshman David McClung of Sundown as Schmendiman and freshman Rachel Morrison of Turkey as a female admirer. Barry Stagg of Texas Tech University will play the role of a surprise visitor. Sarah Buckland of Houston, who served as stage manager for the summer production of Shadowlands in Ruidoso, N.M., will serve in the same role for Picasso.

Tickets for the dinner theatre are $20 per person, which includes the meal, show tickets and dessert. Tickets for the show only are $8 for adults and $4 for students college age and under. Reservations for dinner theatre tickets must be paid for in advance by check, cash or credit card but may be picked up at the door.

For more information or to make reservations, call the Theatre Box Office at 291-1089.