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Toronto by Antonio Tan


If the title of Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning Best Play sounds in anyway intimidating, rest assured, Art is not just for the highly sophisticated art lover or theatre critic (of which I am neither). The play, which recently had its English-language Toronto premiere at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, is surprisingly refreshing and, without being too smug, pleasantly rousing.

Playwright Yasmina Reza blends humour and intellect wonderfully in this piece that mocks Parisian high society, without alienating its audiences to the degree of being condescending. Art is a satisfying comedy that is not only thought provoking, but also (surprise, surprise) laugh-out-loud funny. Its themes of friendship, freedom, and value, as well as the situations Ms. Reza puts her characters in, are universal in their appeal, making Art a comedy which almost everyone can relate to.

Art, surprisingly enough, is not entirely about art. Actually, it's really more about the manipulation in friendship, as well as a question of personal taste. It's about the conflict between three friends - Serge, Marc and Yvan - caused by the purchase of an expensive painting by Serge. The all-white canvas - "white-on-white" canvas, if you will - surprises Marc, who believes Serge has wasted his money on this "shit." Yvan tries to remain neutral, trying to appease both his friends, but he eventually gets entangled within Marc and Serge's quarrel, and in the end, all three are forced to re-examine their peculiar relationship.

(Sound familiar? Most likely, you have been involved in such a situation. Well, not exactly like the one those three are in, but in similar situations that have tested friendships because of something pretty stupid. But then again, you might not think that their argument was pretty stupid ... but then again, that's just a matter of opinion.)

The success of Art around the world is primarily attributed to not only the smartly written script by Reza, but also the casting of the three parts. Broadway and London have had several superb casts, and fortunately, Toronto is blessed with one of its own, with Richard Poe as Serge, Scott Hylands as Marc, and Stephen Ouimette as Yvan. While Poe and Hylands are both good at being egotistical, Stephen Ouimette is the standout among the three, stealing the show with his neurotic portrayal as the middle man. His five-minute long monologue delivered at fever pitch is the main highlight in a show that is already an intelligent delight.

By Yasmina Reza; translated by Christopher Hampton; directed by William Joseph Barnes from the original London & Broadway productions directed by Matthew Warchus; sets by Mark Thompson; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; music composed by Gary Yershon; sound by Mic Pool. Presented by David & Ed Mirvish, in co-production with The Manitoba Theatre Centre by arrangement with David Pugh, Sean Connery and Joan Cullman. At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto.

WITH: Scott Hylands (Marc), Richard Poe (Serge) and Stephen Ouimette (Yvan).

November 4 - December 18, 1999 at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto. Call (416) 872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333. Online at

-Antonio Tan
For what's playing in Toronto, visit On Stage Toronto

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