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The City of Lights

Mountain Community Theater finds a new approach to drama

Three guys walk into a bar: Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and Elvis. Surreal? Yes. But the concept isn’t too far from reality or from Santa Cruz, as the encounter happens on stage this weekend with Mountain Community Theater’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” The quirky and reportedly “hilarious” play, written by über funny man, Steve Martin, takes place in Paris, 1904. In a mysterious bar somewhere in the City of Lights, these three geniuses stumble upon one another. Normally, that might seem like an idea that’s way too over the top. But in the hands of Martin, we are likely to forget the impossibility of such a meeting, and instead eavesdrop on what this strange gathering of men will bring about. (Laughs, for sure.)

thecityoflights1With a few s-bombs and some sexual references on board, this play is a departure from work that MCT has done over the years. For decades, the beloved theater company in the San Lorenzo Valley has been known as being family-friendly. And while its members aren’t completely shedding that image, they are roughing things up a bit and joining the 2007 theatrical requests of audiences.

“I think we’re trying to address the changing needs of our membership and the changing needs of our audience,” says MCT president Richard Gaughan.

Gaughan plays a small role in this play as a visitor from the future. “The primary theme of the play is the nature of genius,” Gaughan says. “And what components of true genius exist in each of us. It illustrates this by really showing a fictional meeting between Einstein and Picasso, and it highlights their differences and similarities. They are considered by Steve Martin to be the two shaping geniuses of the 20th century. The presence of these two true geniuses sparks these flashes of insight from the secondary characters (in the play).”

The story chronicles three men—yes, three guys do walk into a bar. Einstein and Picasso begin some sort of discussion about “what is an artist,” and Elvis? Well, we’re not quite sure where he plays into the story, as it’s more of a suggestion that the character is Elvis. (He’s called “The Singer.”)

“I think it’s a play for our time, even though it’s set in the early 1900s,” says Christopher Donovan, who plays the part of Freddy, the owner of the bar, Lapin Agile. “It’s really something that would not make sense to those people (of that time). But it makes sense to us now. We’re living a life so touched by these people, by rock ’n’ roll, we see pictures of Einstein everyday and Picasso blowing out the old conventions of art. … It gives us a clue about the characters that have impacted us so much.”

thecityoflights2Donovan’s character is essentially an Everyman in this play, who observes the exchange between Einstein, Picasso and “The Singer,” and takes with him, from that experience, a new and illumined look at life, which is similar to the approach that MCT is having with its newfound agenda.

Last year in 2006, MCT took things in a different direction with a consistently sold-out production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” “This kind of theater draws more people,” says director Miguel Reyna. “… We’re not at a Pisces Moon level, but we hope to bring it to a certain edge similar to theirs, but not distract people from the family theater that MCT has [been doing] for so long.” Next up on its new, edgy plate? Following “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” will be an encore performance of “Rocky Horror,” around Halloween. Get ready for some Riff Raff.

Mountain Community Theater’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” will play from May 11 to May 26 at Park Hall in Ben Lomond. Performances are 8 p.m. May 11, 12, 17, 18, 25 and 26. A 2 p.m. performance will be on May 20. Tickets are $15/general; $13/students and seniors. For more information, visit mctshows.org.
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