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Exclusive: Steve Martin helps Oregon high school seeking to perform his play

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Steve Martin: comedian, actor, playwright, novelist, and…first amendment activist? The multi-hyphenate may have to add this title to his job description now that he’s helping Oregon-based La Grande High School perform Picasso at the Lapin Agile after its school board canceled the production due to parents’ concerns over the play’s content. Martin, who wrote Picasso back in 1993, sent a letter to the La Grande Observer‘s editor, which was published in its paper Friday, describing his intent with the play and offering a proposal to the school’s director and his cast. “I will finance a non-profit, off-the-high-school campus production (low-budget, I hope!)…so that individuals outside the jurisdiction of the school board but within the guarantees of freedom of expression provided by the Constitution of the United States, can determine whether they will or will not see the play, even if they are under 18.”

According to the Observer‘s article on the decision, the school board’s superintendent canceled the show after a parent filed a complaint accompanied by a petition signed by 137 community members. The parents objected to the play’s bar locale and its sexual references. The play depicts an imaginary meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein at the Lapin Agile bar in Montmartre, Paris. The comedy has been performed professionally all over the U.S. and in quite a few high schools and colleges, too. Said Martin in his letter, “I have heard that some in your community have characterized the play as ‘people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects.’ With apologies to William Shakespeare, this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle.”

La Grande’s version of Picasso at the Lapin Agile will now be performed at the McKinsey Theater at Eastern Oregon University, May 16-18. Martin will not be able to attend. “His presence will be palpable even if he can’t come,” La Grande English teacher Kevin Cahill, the director of the play, tells EW. “We will leave a seat open to him in the middle of the front row.”

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