Inside USD

Einstein and Picasso at USD

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seniors Kristie Kahlweiss and Michael Ahmad star in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” At right is director George Yè.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is the first undergraduate theatre production of the school year. The  absurdist comedy, written by comic Steve Martin in 1993, features the characters of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, who meet at a bar called the Lapin Agile in Montmartre, Paris. The play is set on Oct. 8, 1904, when each man is on the verge of an amazing idea; Einstein will publish his special theory of relativity in 1905 and Picasso will paint his ground-breaking “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907.

While interacting with a host of other characters the two men begin a debate about what is genius and what is talent and whether the 20th century be remembered for art or for science.

A mysterious visitor, apparently someone well-known for his blue suede shoes, also adds to the debate, suggesting that genius is not always the product of academic or philosophical understanding.

“Picasso and The Lapin Agile” is the first production by USD’s new undergraduate theatre director Robert Barry Fleming. Fleming joined the USD faculty four years ago after earning his master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Alabama/Alabama Shakespeare Festival/Professional Actor Training program. He has appeared in numerous movies and television shows, including “L.A. Confidential” and the “Twilight of the Golds.”  He also performed on Broadway in the musical “Ragtime” and recently directed and choreographed the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” to rave reviews at the Center Rep theatre in Walnut Creek, Cal.

Fleming is overseeing the production that will be directed by USD lecturer and Cygnet Theatre co-founder George Yè. “It’s a very exciting and invigorating time” says Fleming. “I was eager for us to do a comedy, but one that had a subject matter that would be intellectually substantial enough to be worthy of an hour and half traffic on the stage. It is as intelligent a play as it is quirky and goofy.”

Fleming’s goal is to help students make the most of their educational experience, while still having fun. His vision is that Theatre Arts will be a place where theatrical practice and theory intersect, providing an imaginative, creative, culturally rich and intellectually rigorous experience for students.

He wants to help students succeed in an increasingly competitive environment by instilling transferable cognitive, practical and interpersonal skills. “ It is important to empower students with the skills and confidence to think critically and creatively, and to enable them to articulate ideas effectively through writing, speech, performance and self-reflexive empirical practice, thereby enhancing their life options and employability.”

“Time and again, when a USD Theatre Arts student represents us in an internship, domestically or internationally, I’m told what a tremendous asset they were to the whole experience,” Fleming says.  “We know we have great students and we want to continue to give them the best we have to offer in every way.”

Performances of “Picasso and The Lapin Agile” are at 7:30 p.m. from Oct. 22-25 in USD’s Shiley Theatre. Tickets are $11, general admission and $8, students and seniors. Tickets are available at the University Center Box Office and at the door.

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