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Students tackle a classic and a comedy

Jennie Lay
What: "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," by Steve Martin When: 8 tonight and 2 p.m. Saturday What: "The Children's Hour," by Lillian Hellman When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday Where: Julie Harris Theatre at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp Cost: $12 for adults and $10 for children 10 and younger. Call: 879-7125.

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp’s high school and college students are doubling up on drama this summer.

For the first time in Perry-Mansfield’s history, student actors at the country’s oldest performing arts camp are staging two separate theater productions in three days. This weekend features two contrasting plays: the contemporary comic genius of Steve Martin and an American classic by Lillian Hellman.

Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” showing tonight and Saturday afternoon, depicts a fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein at a bar in Paris. The encounter is set just before Picasso’s cubist movement takes shape and before Einstein’s publication of the theory of relativity. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what might have transpired between these two men as they perched on the brink of greatness.

Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” showing Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, explores the close relationship between two female boarding school teachers in the 1930s and the ensuing tragedy that results from a cruel student’s rumors. The story, which has been made into three movies since it had its debut as a play in the 1930s, portrays universal themes about love, lies and betrayal.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

“This is Steve Martin’s play,” said director David Baecker of the first full-length play Martin wrote in 1993. “Everybody will recognize his jokes, his rhythms, his obsessions.”

Though the account of this 1904 meeting between two major historical figures is fictional, Martin is completely true to the characters, Baecker said.

“They drink. They chase women. They struggle with poverty, self-esteem and self-doubt. It’s wickedly funny,” Baecker said. “It’s a really smart play and a really stupid play.”

David Packman, who plays Einstein, described his character as knowing that something great is in store but not quite sure what it is. Cory Antiel, who plays Picasso, portrayed a similar scenario for his character, “being on the cusp and waiting for the ideas and inspiration.”

While the rest of the cast painted a caricature of the play’s host of colorful barflys, bartenders and disillusioned lovers, they unanimously agreed that Martin distinctly personified himself in one “wild and crazy guy” who appears in the play.

Cast members emphasized that “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a play that can be understood on a lot of levels.

“If you really know your art and science, you’ll really get it. If you’re there for the gags, it’s still great,” Baecker said.

“The Children’s Hour”

Director Joe Price explained that the “The Children’s Hour” is an American classic that gains pertinence under the lens of current events.

The story, set in the 1930s, reveals how two women’s lives and dreams are destroyed after a student at their all-girls boarding school starts a rumor about the two women being lovers.

“How much has society really changed?” Price wondered.

Student actor Chris Nelson, who plays a doctor and fiance to one of the women, said it is a realistic story with real reactions. There are no rose-colored glasses, he said.

Melinda Gross, who plays one of the embattled women, called the drama “tragic.”

“It’s a play everyone should see in their lifetime. It’s a mind-warping setting that makes you look at children differently,” Gross said. She said the play has universal themes of love, hate and jealousy.

For a cast full of modern14-year-old girls, this play was a perfect choice, Price said.


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