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But considering the vaudeville origins of Martin's stand-up schtick (the arrow through the head, the physical contortions), you might think he could create something that plays better onstage. It's one thing to throw disparate puns together in a humor column in The New Yorker a la S.J. Perelman. It's altogether another undertaking to give those clever observations legs and faces and ask them to hold our attention.
Still, I don't think Martin is the one who is mistaking the range of his talents. He knows he's a Schmendiman and happy for it. Unlike Picasso and Einstein, who debate the merits of their drawings, Martin would probably agree that his play is just a doodle. The theater producers who foist this second-rate work off as first-class goods are the ones trying to make it something it's not.
I was also underwhelmed by Monsters of Grace, the new collaboration between Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, which recently touched down at the Gusman Center as part of its 33-city U.S. tour. I'm a fan of Robert Wilson's theater spectacles as well as his sculpture, but I came away from Monsters -- described by its creators as an essay on the intersection of the human and the divine -- thinking that the artist had been cowed by the new work's animation technology. Or falsely seduced by it. (Glass's score, on the other hand, is the warmest offering to come out of his studio in recent memory.)
At any rate, throughout Monsters, in which commercial Hollywood animators Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak took Wilson's images and made a kind of three-dimensional slide show, the artist's personality is virtually absent. Only a few fleeting seconds of the 70-minute evening featured the emotional-psychological-subliminal tug of war that marked Einstein on the Beach (1976) or any of Wilson's lesser-known theatrical adaptations. Monsters (visually trite, crudely executed, badly paced) is less compelling than the average MTV music video or theme-park flight simulator.
Somehow, when working in the more traditional mediums of theater and sculpture, Wilson is forced to reinvent the process. No one else has brought to modern theater the notion of movement as a visual element the way Wilson has. Even in his still works, his sculptures of chairs, for instance, the artist designs for the subconscious as well as the eye. At best Wilson is in control of his creative elements. In Monsters he's pitifully under their command.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
Written by Steve Martin. Directed by David Arisco. With Paul Louis, Paul Tei, Bill Hindman, Kris Johnson, Andrew J. Pond, Kim Ostrenko, Marcy Ruderhausen, Arland Russell, and Tom Wahl. Through February 14. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293.