Dispatches | March 17, 2009

Bad news this week for Steve Martin, whose play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, was banned from being performed at an Oregon high school because some parents complained about its content. Martin, various news agencies report, has offered to pay for the play to be produced off-campus. I recommend reading the actual letter he sent to the editor of the La Grande Observer, because it is about as hilarious as a letter to the editor can be.

That Steve Martin! He’s . . . well, you know what kind of guy he is.

It just so happens that on Sunday, my supremely talented community theater castmates and I finished a four-show run of — you guessed it — Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Since I played the title character — Picasso — I feel highly qualified to chime in on this matter. Please imagine that everything from this point on is spoken with an accent that’s one-third Antonio Banderas, two-thirds . . . something else. Accents are hard.

First of all, I can report that there is a moment in the play, just after he shows up, when Picasso announces he’s “been thinking about sex all day,” and that shortly thereafter he drops the play’s sole F-bomb. However, I suspect that if La Grande High (Go Tigers!) has gym classes, study halls, passing periods, or lunch, Picasso’s entrance is probably already echoed at least once a day.

Per student.

Second, it’s true about the presence of adult themes in the play, such as kissing. Picasso kisses girls, and I don’t have to mention what a slippery slope that can be. Let me just pass on, though, for the benefit of the students and their parents, a little tip I picked up during rehearsal. Actor kisses are totally different than regular kisses: no tongue.

Very important to always remember.

And yes, to some degree the play glorifies hanging out in a bar and having affairs and drinking lots of alcohol, but to a greater degree it glorifies being inventive and articulate and prolific. Privilege is placed on the performance of thoughtful comparison and the construction of well-reasoned argument.

In his 2007 memoir Born Standing Up, Martin only mentions Picasso at the Lapin Agile once — he’s got a pretty full life, after all, with all the stand-up gigging, the SNL appearances, the movie career, the banjo playing — but he writes that the play was one of the only things he ever did that won the approval of his late father, who said it should have gotten the Nobel Prize.

It doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize, nor does it deserve to be banned.

However, at least having a work banned would put Martin in the company of a certain other sharp-witted, white-haired American humorist, who also criss-crossed the country and liked to perform in an all-white suit: “Censorship,” quoth Mark Twain, “is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

Maybe, with regard to doing Picasso at the Lapin Agile in a high school, Martin is a little ahead of his time, not unlike the enigmatic messenger who appears close to the end of the play.

It’s good that Martin is prepared to fund the production at its new location, anyway. That way, like that aforementioned messenger, he’ll be ready to deliver his funny, insightful message to those who’re open to receive it.

On a side note, while there’s sadly no video of our performance other than a scene we did for the morning show, to which I linked above, curious fans will be happy to learn that several members of our the cast — and our amazing director — have been admitted into TMR‘s bank of voice actors. Listen for them in upcoming TMR audio issues.

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