Director Matthew Gardiner is working in the smaller of Signature's two spaces, the ARK, making the audience virtually visitors to the set that, in turn, becomes the living room of each of the characters (elegantly designed by James Kronzer with furniture in neutral colors and a background of illuminated white ceramics and books). Gardiner also has the benefit of working with three actors who understand how to get every nuance out of their lines and their facial expressions.
Reza's play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is nominally about three friends and their conflicting opinions of a painting, but it's actually about the routines of friendship: how people tend to settle into a certain routine with those around them, and the tremors that result when something in the landscape shifts.
In this case, the catalyst is when Serge (John Lescault), a dermatologist, spends 200,000 francs for a white-on-white painting. Marc (Mitchell Hébert), an aeronautical engineer, thinks the painting is ridiculous and can't imagine why Serge spent so much money on it, and Yvan (Michael Russotto)an aimless fellow who, as he prepares for marriage and a new job in the wholesale stationery business, describes his future as "marriage, children, death, stationery"tries to placate both sides.
These actors use their distinct appearances and methods of deliveryeven the way they hold their bodiesto delineate the characters, making the audience see how their interrelationship depends on a subtle balancing act. Lescault, patrician and well-spoken, conveys an easy authority that might seem patronizing or pretentious to those around him. Hébert, bald and sometimes smug, knows when he's right in a situation and resents anyone who might disagree. Russotto, chunky and disheveled, is the burning fuse who gets to shoot off verbal sparks in one glorious monologue. Another part of the satisfying whole is the way the three men manage to retain some fašade of civility even in the midst of their battle; a tiny bit of business involving olive pits is delightful.