Outwardly, Art is about modern art, as Serge (Darren Eliker) proudly shows off his newest acquisition: a very expensive all-white (though its whiteness is debated) painting. He loves it and he wants his friends to love it. Marc (Rob Breckenridge) doesn't love ithe hates it ("a piece of white shit") and fears Serge has been "taken in by modern art," apparently a horrible thing. Marc expresses his disdain for the painting, and for Serge's taste in art, in some pretty devastating ways, but ultimately, his real fear is for the role he plays, or perceives to play, in his friendship with Serge. Yvan is friend to both and tries his best to keep the boat from being rocked, but he has plenty of problems of his own, though they generate no sympathy from Serge and Marc, so caught up are they in their own conflict.
On the surface, the three men seem quite unlikeable. Who would want friends like these, who resort to insult at a difference in artistic taste? But, really, each one of us probably has a close friend somewhat like each one of these men, and we've certainly had friendships tested over similar differences. There is a real-life quality here that holds the audience. Things are exaggerated for comedic effect, and the fact that the characters aren't simply "types" is a testament to some superb acting and careful directing by Ted Pappas.
For those of us who see a lot of local theater, it's inevitable that we will see many performances by a core of local working actors. Darren Eliker is one of that talented group in Pittsburgh, but here he rises far above his previous admirable work, in the season's most memorable stage performance. Careful not to overplay, Eliker is Serge from the very first moment the light hits him, a complete and interesting character who delivers Reza's words (actually Christopher Hampton's, translated from Reza's original French script) with great efficacy. Eliker is matched well by two seasoned regional actors: Rob Breckenridge (previously seen here in Life X 2) as the caustic Marc, who effectively, almost touchingly, lets down his guard at the end of the play; and Harry Bouvy (City's The Clockmaker) as Yvan, a hilarious bundle of neuroses who whips the audience into a cheering frenzy with a mid-play monologue/rant on his upcoming nuptials. The three work alone and off each other with perfection, each an example of a contemporary urbane male figure. The three performances elicit nearly continuous laughter, yet nothing is played just for a laugh. Great writing served well. Bravo!
Anne Mundell's clean and modern set forms the basis for creative staging through Phil Monat's perfectly executed lighting and Pappas' pinpoint directing. Costumes, also by Ted Pappas, are exactly right for each character in almost every wayI found the gray jacket Serge sometimes wears to be less fashionable than the other outfits, a little sloppy fitting and of a material that looked like too much like fake crushed velvet from where I was sitting. That's a small quibble, but if I have to examine details that closely for a quibble, it illustrates how wonderful the rest is.
The individual parts of this production are terrific, and the sum is what every production hopes fora level of synergy that is incredibly satisfying. This must-see production is just a hint of what the Public has in store for next seasonthe 2010-11 conclusive show (part of the most promising season schedule in years) is Reza's God of Carnage, a hilarious farcical play which just finished a successful run on Broadway and focuses on the insane aspects of 21st century parenting.
Art continues through June 27 at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.