Surreal at the ‘Lapin Agile’

You may recognize Gerrett Snedaker from his role in Sonoma as managing broker for Wine Country Group Realtors. You may have seen him playing a policeman in “Glengarry Glenn Ross” at the Backstage Theatre in 2000, or in Silver Moon Theatre’s productions of “Murder on the Nile” or “Treasure Island.”

This weekend, you can witness his debut as director of M & G Production’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

Reading the play “Freud’s Last Session,” an imaginary meeting between C.S. Lewis and the great psychologist, inspired Snedaker to give directing a try. It couldn’t be much different from managing real estate agents, he thought. The play would be easy to handle with its simple set and cast of two actors. He bought copies of the play, cast his actors, started rehearsing and then learned he had to acquire the rights to produce the play. Oops! He was unable to obtain them.

Deep conversation, fueled by great minds and an open bar, at the Lapin Agile.

Then a friend brought Steve Martin’s hit play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” to his attention. It is similar to “Freud’s Last Session” in that it is about an imaginary meeting between geniuses, in this case Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, and has a small cast.

As a first-time director, Snedaker is learning the ropes from a community of seasoned theatre people. Jamie Love, executive director of Sonoma Theatre Alliance, (STA) gave him a book on the principles of directing, and he asked Nellie Cravens, director of Silver Moon Theatre, to mentor him.

He recruited Monica McKey as associate director of “Picasso,” and admits that he would be lost without her. McKey has been acting and directing in the Sonoma theatre community since 1982, and currently serves as the secretary of the STA Board of Directors. She volunteers her time and talents to theatrical projects because she has a vested interest in keeping theatre alive – she wants to continue to act and direct.

The term “associate director” was one she’d never heard before, but it means they are working as a team. He has the big picture vision and she sees herself as the traffic cop. After a rehearsal, Snedaker gives the actors a few notes and asks them how they feel about what they did. Monica, on the other hand, reads off pages of notes from her legal pad.

McKey is at ease coaching actors and directs straight from the script. “The script tells you everything you need to know. Also, I’m a blocking Nazi. Right after delivery of lines, nothing will break a show like bad blocking,” said McKey. “Blocking” is a theatrical term for where, when and how the actors move about the stage. She points out that it is a great tool to help actors memorize lines and how crucial it is that actors follow the blocking that has been set. One rogue actor can throw the others off of their game.

McKey describes “Picasso” as “an odd little script by Steve Martin. It’s about philosophy, science and art and the interplay of those domains with society. It’s about serious subjects, but is light and has wacky moments.” The catch phrase the cast and crew have adopted for those moments is one of the barmaid’s lines: “It’s surreal.”

Local painter Will Combs is the artistic director and co-producer in the M&G production. “It is entertaining comedy. People need comedy in this day and age,” he said.

“I created a zany set,” he said. “There are no straight lines. No levels, it’s all eyeballed,”

Snedaker has encouraged his wild ideas. Combs spent time hanging out at the actual Lapin Agile, a cluttered Parisian cabaret where struggling turn of the century artists gathered to discuss the meaning of art while getting sauced. The owner often let patrons pay bar bills with their sketches, paintings and musical instruments, all of which Combs cleverly incorporates into the set. In addition, the original Lapin Agile inspired the set’s pink and green color palate.

His approach to set design is a lot like painting, and he says a painting is never finished, but eventually you put a frame on it and call it done. “Opening night is like putting a frame on the painting,” he said.

Working on the sets for “Picasso” has been as time consuming as working on some of the movie jobs from his past life as a Hollywood production designer. “Only there, people are always accessible to you and you get paid well. Here, it’s all about love and the love of theatre, and the reward is a well attended and well received production.”

The time commitment people put into community theatre inspires Snedaker. The actors have been rehearsing three nights a week since early July and for the past two weeks they and the technical people have been at the theatre every day, a schedule that can be taxing on their families.

“They must do it to fulfill the artistic fix it provides,” he said. His wife, Diane, understands, but she doesn’t like spending evenings alone. “It’ll be over soon,” he laughs.

And then? Snedaker just may apply for the rights to “Freud’s Last Session,” the play that gave him the directing bug.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

The show runs from August 8 through August 25. Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St. The one-act play has no intermission, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy the Rotary Kitchen offerings and cabaret-style music before the show. The lobby cafe opens an hour before the performance. For tickets, contact the box office at 938.4626 x1 or

Hannah Pryfogle and Nestor Campos, Jr.

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