Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
You think this is going to be a rehashing of that old question, whether art is in the eye of the beholder or whether there are objective criteria that allow one to call something a genuine work of "art." (The quotation marks are often omitted in the title of this play, but they're there for a reason.) The monetary value of a piece of art is another topic for debate: Is there an intrinsic value to a particular work that justifies a specific dollar amount, or is it just art-market manipulation? There's a lot that could be said about these topics.
However, this is just the groundwork of the play, not the main point. People argue about art all the time, and not much comes of it, but here it just about breaks up the 15-year bromance between Serge and Marc for good. It turns out that Reza's play is not so much about aesthetics as it is about friendship: how we are defined, to a significant extent, by the people we choose to be friends with, and the people who choose to be friends with us.
There is a good line in the play, quoting a psychiatrist, that goes something like, "I am who I am because you are who you are." This could get into some fairly heavy philosophy about how there is no absolutely independent thing called the "self." The "self" is defined by the "other," and in this play, it is close friends that define each other. When the actions of one threaten the created self-hood of the other, all hell breaks loose.
Luckily, we don't have to sit through a tedious metaphysical debate. The play is really funny, which is a great way to handle serious material. There are laughs all the way through, mainly laughs of recognition because we realize that we could easily act just like these three guys are acting, even though very few of us would ever buy a painting for $200,000.
Marc Comstock, the director, keeps the action moving, and both the humor and the tension are brought out nicely. I like that for much of the play, the actors are holding glasses full of red wine. Will or won't someone throw his wine on the painting? What happens is not what I expected.
Obviously, the play depends on the three actors and how they are directed. I would go see Matt Heath in anything, but he's especially good at comedy with a dangerous edge. This is the kind of role that suits him to a T, a spluttering volcano on the verge of erupting at any moment.
The other perfectly cast actor is Joe Dallacqua as Serge. This is only his second stage appearance in Albuquerque, the first being Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, after which everybody was asking "Where did they find this guy?" I don't know how wide a range he has as an actor, but as far as playing high-class aesthetes, he can't be beat. It's not just the somewhat superior way he pronounces the dialogue, but also the way he holds his head in such a manner that he always seems to be looking down on everybody, and the way he moves his hands as if to dismiss everyone beneath him, which is just about everybody. (I know this is a strange thing to comment on, but I think he has the most beautiful hands I have ever seen on a man on stage. I hope he doesn't get self-conscious about them now.)
The role of Yvan is a tough one. His main purpose is to be the punching bag (at one point, almost literally) while the other two duke it out. The only discernible reason that anyone would hang around with this sad sack is to fulfill the dictum that "in order to be truly happy, not only must you be a great success, but your best friend must be a total failure." (I thought this was an Oscar Wilde quote, but I can't place it; something similar goes back to La Rochefoucauld, if not earlier.) Played here by Jeremy Joynt as a bundle of neurotic facial and hand movements, it's simply unbelievable that either Serge or Marc would have him as a friend. Would they ever deign to be seen in public with him? I assume that he was directed to perform this way by Marc Comstock. If so, it's the only false move in an otherwise excellent staging job. Tone down the shtick a bit and Yvan might come across as a plausible character, but as it is, he's a caricature, although likable in a pathetic sort of way.
The set by Vic Browder is attractive and multipurpose, since it has to function as more than one apartment. Some of the costumes by Louissa O'Neill are spot-on: Marc is in red (hot), Serge is in blue (coolwith the coolest pair of socks I've ever seen); but I never believed that Yvan would wear the clothes, especially the socks, that he wears heregray would seem more fitting. The lighting by Ray Rey Griego is very good.
I saw this play about 15 years ago, but I don't recall it being as well-written and deep as it is. I thought it was a flash in the pan, and that it was produced all over the place because it required only three actors, one set, and 90 minutes. Now I see that it really is a work of art, no quotation marks required.
'Art', through March 25, 2018, at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW (a few blocks north of Alameda), Albuquerque NM. Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. Tickets $17 to $20. Info at adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.