Wouldn't it be funny if two titans of culture who helped shape the 20th century had a chance meeting at a bar in the weeks before they began to reveal their greatness?

Wouldn't it be funny if two titans of culture who helped shape the 20th century had a chance meeting at a bar in the weeks before they began to reveal their greatness?

Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) thought so. He imagined such a meeting between painter Pablo Picasso and physicist Albert Einstein in his 1993 play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." Following an early reading with a who's who of Hollywood (including Tom Hanks and Chris Sarandon in the lead roles), the play enjoyed strong runs in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York before eventually becoming a favorite of regional theater companies.

The comic play, at once smart and zany, is the current offering from Clintonville's Columbus Civic Theater. Artistic/Executive Director Richard Albert said it's a perfect summer theater offering and an "accessible, contemporary comedy." The play also offers a loose tie-in with the current "Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change" exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art.

"It's a fictional meeting between the two, who are both about to do something extremely significant," Albert said. "Their [eventual] contributions are juxtaposed, and what they are discussing is [now] actual history."

Martin sets the play in the pregnant moment just before history is made, as Picasso is about to paint "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Einstein to offer his Theory of Relativity. The one-act play also takes place entirely at the Lapin Agile, an actual bar/cabaret in the Montmartre district of Paris, frequented by struggling artists and writers (Picasso among them), as well as nefarious characters of the social and political underground

The dialogue in "Lapin Agile" hints at what is to come, but there are no clever winks from the cast of characters. They remain primarily concerned with their hopes of effecting change, and the commentary is most often comic.

"Martin leaves the known history to the audience," director Samantha Hunter said. "The conversation is mainly about where they are in that moment. They have an idea about where they want to be, and they hope to significantly impact their world, but they don't know exactly what or how."

The primary comic foil is Charles Dabernow Schmendiman, a young inventor (he has created a building material that is "inflexible but brittle") who also has his sights set on greatness but who lacks the real genius to make it happen. Schmendiman, of course, doesn't realize this shortcoming, and his bold pronouncements of his pending impact on society ring hollow in the light of actual history. Not every character in "Lapin Agile" recognizes that Schmendiman is destined for historical oblivion.

"[The play] makes statements about fame and achievement and creativity," Albert said.

Helping anchor the cast and drive the plot are bar owner Freddy and his girlfriend and bar waitress Germaine. Freddy thinks he's funny but is portrayed as simple-minded. That said, he occasionally provides keen insight. Germaine also speaks about changing the world and proves to have a clear picture of the future.

"Her ideas are spot on. She's speaking the truth," Hunter said. "But in that time, no one would have listened to her because she's a woman."

Germaine also has a romantic history with Picasso, as does the young woman Suzanne, who is still in love with the artist but is hurt and angered when he doesn't remember her. Other romantic entanglements involve a beautiful countess with whom Einstein is infatuated and a young woman whom Picasso assumes is an admirer of his but who is really interested in Schmendiman.

Rounding out the motley cast of supporting characters are Gaston, an older man with prostate problems who, Hunter said, "is pretty much horny and drunk throughout the entire show," and The Visitor, a polite, young, blue-suede-shoes-wearing time traveler from America who provides some historical context. (Though unidentified, The Visitor's Elvis-like qualities are evident.)

The conversation continually returns to the two prime movers, Picasso and Einstein, who each begin the play by contentiously advocating the importance of his own field of endeavor.

"They begin to see eye to eye, even though they don't share the same views," Hunter said. "They share a desire, a drive, a passion to have an impact on the world."