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steve martin wait picasso einstein lapin agile theater acting

Waiting for Steve Martin

by rick    April 01, 2002

You've been cast as Albert Einstein in an equity waiver production of Steve Martin's clever, pseudo-historical play Picasso at the Lapin Agile and aside from the usual hiccups often associated with kind of production, you're as confidant as you've been in any role for some time.

You see, you're funny; or at least that's what your mother always told you when you gathered the family in the living room for rip-roaring fart jokes and comedic songs about dogs who wear ties, and you're bound to get your own sitcom. But this theatre is Barstow- a pit stop for actors on the way to and from disappointment- a 1950's porno house gouged out to make a make a makeshift theater complex with bad acoustics. But tonight, the El Portal is the heart of the LA theatre world because it's opening night and you're about to perform in front of that wild and crazy white-haired genius himself...

...Steve Martin.

He has tickets held for himself at every opening of his play in Los Angeles, ostensibly to support his show and the theatre in general, but more likely to insure that nobody botches his vision. One of your fellow actors tells you that he shut down a show in the Valley not too long ago, upset that his characters had been made into caricatures and his thoughtful treatise on the mind of two geniuses reduced to a farce.

Your mind quickly inventories the amount of takes to the audience that you do, and the number of bits your wild and crazy director has added to quicken the pace of the talk-heavy show and keep the audience engaged and you can't quite shake the feeling that it's possible he might not like this production and The Company Rep, a great theatre company struggling to elevate itself, might be dealt a finishing blow.

But you're funny...

...You tell yourself as the lights dim as fellow actor Dana Craig waltzes onstage humming Ta-Rah-Rah-Boom-Dee-Ay, and the moment to find out is coming in three... two... one... Cue!

A burst of nervous energy propels you onto the boards and under the lights and you start talking, your mouth moving and your heart beating in your chest, and your awareness of what's going on arrives just in time to notice that your first joke has bombed.

You're standing there, arms held out, holding for silence.

'Chirp, chirp,' scream the crickets and you fumble through the next lines hoping that talking really fast will make them forget that you're not funny, and that they'll sit back and enjoy the sheer amount of energy that you're producing.

Just when things really couldn't be much worse, you look out to do a monologue and there's Steve Martin sitting in the front sitting with his arms folded, wearing the same nervous expression he had when he watched his kids ruin a grade-school production of Snow White in the movie Parenthood. 'He hates it', you say to yourself, 'he's closing us down,' and your sitcom stardom gets further and further away and starts to change into a four-month run of dinner theatre in Thousand Oaks.

It's about this time you remember the other people on stage with you and that you really haven't heard a word they've said tonight outside of your cues. So you start to listen and little by little the panic subsides and the joy returns and the audience starts to laugh, and Steve Martin and his 'artistic foibles' float further and further away. You've seen Bowfinger and you're pretty sure Edward Albee or Arthur Miller wouldn't have been associated with a turd like that, so who cares if the guy's enjoying himself or what he thinks of you.

You discover the real meaning of relativity as the next hour feels like five minutes and before you know it, you're spinning around the table with the actor playing Picasso (Eric Ashmore) bouncing ideas and the energy of the show back and forth like crazed electrons. And then the group photo, and the final tableau and its over and the house lights come up with the applause. You avoid looking at Steve during the curtain call because you don't want anything to bring you down from this or dull the joy of being an actor.

Backstage, you're still on high and between high-fives and hugs you manage to blurt out, "You believe that? He really showed up."


"Steve Martin. He was right there in the front row. You didn't see him?"

At this point, everyone's stopped talking to stare at you. Jessica, (the woman who plays Suzanne) levels the blow. "That wasn't Steve Martin."


"He had white hair," offers Mike, (Schmedimann) "But trust me. That wasn't Steve Martin."

And they laugh. At your expense, sure, but you laugh too, and it bounces around the old, audio-impaired XXX movie house that, on this night, is the best space you've ever played.

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