picassobAlfredo Narciso (as young Pablo Picasso) takes to the floor with Rachel Botchan in PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE, the Steve Martin comedy opening this week at Two River Theater. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson)


Ever since the invisible curtain went up on its first mainstage production in 2005, the Two River Theater hasn’t been shy about showcasing the stuff of genius — be it Shakespeare, Shepard or Shaw; Moliere or Beckett; Noel Coward or Tennessee Williams.

You can add Picasso and Einstein to that Mensa mix — but if you do that, you’ll have to make room for Steve Martin too.

Yes, the star of The Man With Two Brains and Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid has a history with the Two River Theater Company, which brought a revival of The Underpants — Martin’s springtime-fresh take on a musty old German farce — to Red Bank in 2007.

Three years later, TRTC revisits the oeuvre of the Emmy- and Grammy-winning renaissance guy — with a new staging of Martin’s all-original play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, previewing tonight and continuing through June 6.

picassoaYoung Einstein — personified by Drew Hirshfield — shares a big theory, while Bradford Cover and Emily Ackerman appear relatively perplexed.

First produced in 1993 (and set in 1904 Paris), Picasso brings together a couple of the 20th century’s biggest movers and shakers — the titular painter and the young Albert Einstein — for a round of drinks, bawdy stories and some sex-obsessed socializing, at a Montmarte tavern the name of which translates as The Nimble Bunny.

Along the way, these two twentysomething guys — both of whom would be on the cusp of great things in 1904 — debate the roles of Genius, Brains and Talent in the new century, only to have their ideas all shook up by a strange visitor from the future.

It’s a comedy, of course — and to Hal Brooks, it’s the work of an artist with a “well-honed gift for the absurd,” a performer who “was always absurdist in his standup routines. He was never just a yukster.”

The director, whose various acclaimed projects include Obie winners and Pulitzer Prize finalists (as well as My Name is Asher Lev, an adaptation by TRTC’s outgoing artistic director Aaron Posner), sees Martin’s play as “a merging of ideas”  from a familiar figure whose “many incarnations” include fiction writer, painter, magician, dramatic actor, musician and children’s book author.

“Everybody will dig this show,” the Brooklynite Brooks explains, “But not everybody gets what he’s doing here.”

Starring as Picasso for the Red Bank run is Alfredo Narciso, with fellow Two River newcomer Drew Hirshfield as young Einstein. The supporting cast features a few names that might ring a bell with veteran TRTC watchers, including Bradford Cover (Heartbreak House), Glenn Peters (Mere Mortals) — and Emily Ackerman, a player and playwright who’s probably best recalled as the co-author of ReENTRY, the Iraq War oral-history project developed and premiered at Two River last year.

Peters, by the way, will be doing the honors for the now-traditional “BeforePlay” feature — a playfully professorial examination of Steve Martin’s often wild and crazy work — scheduled 45 minutes prior to each performance. In a slightly more serious vein, director Brooks will be participating in a post-show panel discussion entitled “The Meeting of Art and Science Through the Beautiful Mind,” on May 23.

The final mainstage offering of the 2009-2010 season at Two River, Picasso at the Lapin Agile begins previews tonight (it’s sold out); opens Saturday, May 22 (that one’s sold out as well), and runs through Sunday, June 6. Tickets are $35 – $61 and are available by calling the TRTC Box Office at 732.345.1400, or visiting the TRTC website for ticket prices and availability — as well as info on dinner/show packages and other special-event performances.

We should mention here also a couple of other special upcoming events at the theater, both of them revolving around youth, genius — and in one instance, Picasso.

An original “PlayBack” production co-written by and featuring a cast of 13 high schoolers, it’s described as a “surprising, insightful and dynamic theater piece” on “art, science and the search for genius and human connection” — and it happens on the set of the Lapin Agile, June 7 and 8 at 7p.

Then, on the weekend of June 25 and 26, Ackerman’s ReEntry collaborator KJ Sanchez (also, sadly, departing the Two River fold at the end of this season) joins with the company’s performing arts student program to present Life in the Middle, her original rock musical “with dialogue taken directly from middle schoolers” that “looks at what it’s really like to be right in the middle” (talk about your war zones!). Tickets for these two limited-run, bargain-priced premieres are   available through the same channels mentioned above.