Ask Robbie Tann anything about Albert Einstein and the odds are he’s going to have a good answer for you. “I have been going nuts researching Einstein. I feel like I’ve pulled a thread and it all just keeps coming,” he said.
Tann has immersed himself in the iconic scientist’s life in preparation to portray him in the Steve Martin comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile, playing November 26 through December 21 on the Claire Tow Stage. Martin’s hit comedy imagines a meeting between Einstein and Pablo Picasso amidst the bohemian denizens of a bar in Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century. “It’s a tricky play. It’s hard to strike the balance between goofy and intelligence. It has to be both completely dumb and completely smart. You ride a fine line the whole time,” Tann said.
Einstein is one of those historical figures that everyone knows, but doesn’t have any true insight about. They might think of his crazy hair, or of him sticking his tongue out at the camera, or just the use of his name as a synonym for genius. The human being is lost in all of that. Tann, through his reading, has found ways to make the caricature come alive. “He had a wicked sense of humor – sarcastic and witty… People think of him as the prototypical nerd, but that was just not true. He was actually much more of a rebel who despised authority. The reason he was so successful is that he’d didn’t adhere to any of the rules people set up,” Tann said.
So, how does this all translate into an actor’s performance? “I learned where he was in his life at the time the play takes place – he was years away from making it. He was a guy working a survival job trying to get a big break. It’s akin to being an actor. I can connect with that,” he said. “Success for me would be akin to what Einstein wanted, in a way. We both want something bigger than ourselves, to be part of something beyond what we thought we could do.”
That feeling – one of possibility and hope – is at the heart of Martin’s romp. “I hope the audience sees just how magical that time was. It was the moment right before everything changed. It had a feeling of excitement and passion … it must have been an amazing time to be alive,” Tann said.