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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Art and My Way

Art
Tony Braithwaite, Ian Merrill Peakes, and
Pete Pryor

Photo: John Flak
Art, Yasmina Reza's comedy about three friends and the artwork that comes between them, has been a staple of stages worldwide for over a decade now, and it's easy to see why: it's funny, it goes down easy, and it's a terrific acting showcase. All three of those qualities are on display now in director Bud Martin's excellent production at the Act II Playhouse.

Art is the story of three longtime friends: Serge, who has just spent a small fortune to buy a 4-foot-by-5-foot, white-on-white painting by a trendy artist; Marc, who is so judgmental that he takes Serge's decision to buy the painting as a personal affront; and Yvan, who is so eager to avoid arguments that he tells people just what they want to hear, which only leads to more arguments. It's a slender story, but one that provides the opportunity for a lot of comically indignant speeches. Despite the premise, Reza doesn't spend a lot of time satirizing the world of modern art; instead, she concentrates on what the reactions to the painting reveals about the characters' personalities. The characters are smart, but the humor is accessible, wavering between highbrow and slapstick. The one glaring problem with Reza's play (translated from the French by Christopher Hampton) is that there's never a satisfying explanation of how these three men became friends or what binds them together. (Late in the play, we learn that Marc once served as Serge's mentor, but that doesn't seem convincing.)

Martin's quick-moving production features three of Philadelphia's top actors—Tony Braithwaite as Marc, Ian Merrill Peakes as Serge, and Pete Pryor as Yvan. Each actor gets a chance to be both amusing and aggravated. Peakes and Pryor get to have laughing jags that turn their faces red, while Braithwaite glares at them, complaining that he has not lost his sense of humor. Pryor makes the most of a monologue in which he tells of an argument with his fiancée and his family. The way Pryor jiggles his hands while imitating the way Yvan's fiancée dries her nails is a marvelous comic touch. Dirk Durossette's sleek set complements the piece perfectly.

Art is no masterpiece. It's thought-provoking, but not too deep; it's funny but not side-splitting. But Martin's production shows that with the right trio of actors, it can make for a wonderful night of comedy.

Art runs through June 12, 2011, at Act II Playhouse, 56 East Butler Avenue, Ambler, Pennsylvania. Ticket prices range from $27 to $33, with discounts available for students, seniors and groups, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 215-654-0200, online at www.act2.org or in person at the box office.

My Way
Fran Prisco, Danielle Herbert, Ellie Mooney and Carl Clemons-Hopkins
Photo: Mark Garvin
At the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, everybody's having a ring-a-ding-ding time with My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. This revue mixes a bit of snappy patter with a lot of snappy songs—more than fifty tunes crammed into ninety minutes—in a "Nice 'n Easy" celebration of Old Blue Eyes and his music.

Revues like this rise or fall on the talents of their performers, and My Way has four very good ones: Ellie Mooney, who is sly and playful on songs like "All of Me"; Carl Clemons-Hopkins, suave and powerful on "I'm Gonna Live Til I Die"; Danielle Herbert, sassy and sexy on "You're Cheatin' Yourself"; and Fran Prisco, who epitomizes the happy hipster on "I've Got the World on a String." They occasionally use a bit of Sinatra's phrasing (such as the line "You give me a boot" in "I Get a Kick Out of You"), but mostly put their own stamps on the classic material. Prisco provides brisk and efficient direction, and Mooney's clever choreography makes good use of the limited playing area. All four voices are unamplified in the Independence Studio's tiny space, backed by a hard-swinging jazz duo, Alex Bechtel and Andrew Nelson.

The between-songs dialogue pays tribute to Sinatra, but doesn't paint him as a saint. There are mentions of his many marriages and affairs, and pointed references to his dated (to put it kindly) views on women. The musical program relies heavily on theme-oriented medleys; for instance, a "cities" medley includes numbers like "Chicago" and "I Love Paris." (This medley makes it clear that, three decades after Sinatra recorded it, "L.A. Is My Lady" still sucks.)

Sure, things seem a little musty and corny here at times. If you're not a Sinatra fan, this show won't change your opinion—and even if you are, it's still not a must-see. But the high spirits of the cast make My Way an enjoyable time in the company of songs that seem like old friends. On the night I attended, one of the stars briefly forgot some of the lyrics, then laughed off the mistake. Like Sinatra himself, My Way is less concerned with perfection than with having a good time.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra runs through June 26, 2011, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $30 and are available by calling the box office at 215-574-3550, online at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or www.ticketmaster.com, or by visiting the box office.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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