Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Art (produced initially a couple of decades ago) is set in France where Serge (John Skelley) has recently purchased an all white painting for 200,000 euros. He shows off the canvas to his friend Marc (Benton Greene) who is astounded and baffled that Serge has committed such a fiscal blunder. Okay, what, anyway, is art?
Serge claims that Antrios, the artist, is quite well known and that this 1970s painting is an absolute gem. Marc, who specializes in aero-nautical engineering, laughs with scorn at his friend. Serge, a deadpan sort of guy, is most offended and seeks affirmation for his acquisition. All of the talk, rather than action, at least for the most part, occurs in Serge's flat. He is, by the way, is a working dermatologist.
The third soul who enters the fray is the insecure Yvan (Sean Dugan), who at first is mildly favorable in his response to the painting. Yvan, unfortunately for him but luckily for those of us watching, is about to marry someone named Catherine. There has evidently been a to-do about the wedding invitations. While the topic of Yvan and his wedding is introduced as secondary, that theme is indicative of much more.
Each of the characters has time on the stage alone with one of the other playersor with all. The repartee is swift, pointed, and wildly clever. Moreover, friendship is at stake here. Can those who have a longstanding relationship remain on good terms if they have oppositional viewpoints on, say, something like a five foot by four foot white canvas (which is said to have some lines in it)? Further, should a trusted individual come forward with the truth when someone he knows asks a pivotal question? Like: What do you think of a blank white painting for which I just paid a considerable amount of money?
Fans of television's "Seinfeld" have remarked that the series was about nothing yet everything. Art could be placed in that category. The conversations in the play are not mundane. Perhaps the painting is lacking in aesthetic merit, yet it is catalytic and revealing.
Director Lamos, working with top level actors who are physically very different, varies the pace of the piece. There is acceleration, and there are less frenetic moments. This facilitates excellent comic timing. Downtime enables the performers to individually shape the characters. Dugan's Yvan is the man in the middle and also a nervous, nerdy type who is given space to develop.
While much of the dialogue is amusing, the final segment opens up to more moving interface and even a surprising battle. One of the great lines, fairly late in the show, is Yvan's: "Apocalypse because of a white square," he says.
Art is a metaphor and the script is timeless. Reza's scenic choice is Paris a while ago but this might as well be any one of a number of cities. The play has a totally contemporary feel to it. The issues and implications remain relevant. The focus is on life or on art or on both. More important, it is a look, from the audience's window, at camaraderie, at men who might otherwise be companions attending, for example, an art exhibit. Yvan, now, would still see his workplace existence as negligible and wish somehow, that a sweet, attractive fiancee would elevate all for him. Marc, in 2016, would still be snobbish and dismissive. Serge would get his back up and defend himself. How strong is their collective bond?
All to Reza's credit (and to Hampton for providing the fine translation), the play is modernist and insightful. Through her dialogue, the play addresses just how much honesty one human desires, processes, and is able to withstand from another (when feedback is highly critical). How far can one individual push and then what?
Lamos is an interpreter of plays. This one is, at first, blunt and then layered with complexity. The director must prod and then release in order to find maximum effectiveness. That is accomplished within Art, a nifty find for Westport country Playhouse.
Art continues, through May 29th, at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut. For tickets, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call (203) 227-4177.