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Chicago by John Olson

Art
Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre

Also see John's review of The Hairy Ape

Art
John Procaccino and ensemble members Francis Guinan and K. Todd Freeman
In the world of the non-musical play, decidedly less commercial than the world of musicals, Art must be one of the bigger hits in history. Ten years ago this play enjoyed a 17 month run on Broadway, and a successful sit-down production in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre, just across the street from its current home at Steppenwolf. This insightful piece about male friendships, authored by a woman, offers a perfect vehicle to showcase some of the Steppenwolf company members and, like the Broadway production, perhaps encourage some repeat viewings by changing the cast. On the February 14th opening night, the cast included longtime company members Francis Guinan and K. Todd Freeman along with John Procaccino, who understudied Alan Alda in the original Broadway production of Art in 1998. In early April, Guinan will switch roles while Ian Barford, and Joe Dempsey will join the cast as Procaccino and Freeman leave.

Art lends itself to this sort of casting rotation because the characters, while fully-drawn and distinct from each other, are written without any suggestion of physical type or race—only the implication that they be old enough to afford an expensive artwork and to have enjoyed long friendship with each other. Set in Paris, though the action could be in any city and is performed in American English accents, the story concerns the reaction set off when dermatologist Serge buys a nearly blank but expensive white painting which his friend Marc considers worthless. A third friend, Yvan, who would just as soon stay out of the conflict, is eventually drawn into it as well. Their differences of opinion are expressed in the ways so frequently used by friends: blunt disapproval, polite approval and, ultimately, out and out confrontation.

Directed by Rick Snyder, this cast rings true on all levels. Guinan is the mildly arrogant Marc, who has little doubt that his opinions on something as subjective as a piece of art are utterly infallible and unquestionably true. Procaccino's Serge is enthusiastic and open-minded, if possibly a little pretentious, while Freeman's Yvan, the funniest character of the group, is an anxious and insecure groom-to-be, eager to just have a nice time and not cause any waves. The three display perfect timing and chemistry and truthfully capture the mannerisms and mindsets of the modern urban professional middle-aged male. Their performances should provoke no controversy about their merit.

One could call Art pop-Art, but in a good way. It's an entertaining and accessible piece that's insightful as well. In the hands of these accomplished actors, who can deliver comedy and the truth upon which good comedy is based; it makes for an enjoyable and satisfying trip to the theater.

Art will be performed at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, through June 7, 2009. Tickets available at the box office, online at www.steppenwolf.org, or by phone at 312-335-1650.


Photo: Michael Brosilow

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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