Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Life and Art Collide
City Lights Theater Company

Also see Richard's review of Pippin

Jeffrey Bracco, Kit Wilder and Max Tachis
City Lights opens its season with Art, the award-winning play that put Yasmina Reza on the map for discerning theatregoers; it also set the mark for all of Reza's plays: funny, hilarious at times, but with an edge, taking a bite out of modern society and exposing our pretentious claims to culture and civilized behavior.

Three men, three distinct personalities, three good friends, clash over the recent purchase of an expensive painting. Marc (Kit Wilder) opens the show in a direct address to the audience with his lament that his longtime friend, Serge (Jeffrey Bracco), has foolishly spent a small fortune on a painting that Marc feels exemplifies the height of absurdity in modern art—because it's white: a large, all-white canvas, with some faintly visible lines in another white. Not only does Marc find this ludicrous and ill-advised on Serge's part, somehow he feels like it's a personal affront—that Serge is thumbing his nose at anyone who doesn't believe the painting has value.

Serge shows the painting to Marc in a very funny scene, followed by monologues from each man on the other's lack of taste and/or inability to be a good friend. Serge thinks Marc should like it because it makes him happy; Marc thinks Serge should know how dismayed he is by such foolishness. Marc then attempts to enlist their mutual friend Yvan (Max Tachis) in his mission to confront Serge. Yvan tentatively agrees with Marc, but when he meets with Serge and sees the painting, he has a different opinion.

The disagreement over the painting's value heats up as the three men finally meet for an evening, and Marc refuses to let the subject alone. Where and how it resolves is both surprising and amusing, and then is almost immediately suspect—is it really resolved? Perhaps, or maybe not—you'll have to decide for yourself. Reza lets us in on her private joke, that life doesn't wrap up in neat, tidy bundles; and our egos and our relationships may sustain blows that leave permanent scars.

The three actors in this production are perfectly cast for their characters, and each of them is strong on stage, totally capable of holding his own in this dysfunctional trio. Tachis plays the younger, more vulnerable of the three, with perfect pitch, his tall lanky physicality making him somehow appear even less solid, less grounded, than the others. Bracco as Serge carries his modernity with a bravado, defending his passion for art with a slight swagger and curl of the lip. Wilder's version of Marc is all slick and smooth on the outside, but a whirlpool of insecurities and doubts on the inside, deftly revealed in contradictions. These are three superb actors on their game, playing off each other in impressive counterpoint, demonstrating precise jockeying for Alpha dog.

Ron Gasparinetti's marvelous set captures modernity and status, adeptly making minimal changes for the men's three apartments. Original music by George Psarras adds convincing undertones to the action, and Nick Kumamoto's lighting highlights the many direct addresses by the characters. Kudos to properties designer Julia Rotakhina for a nicely executed, white painting.

A few quibbles: costume designer Amy Zsadanyi-Yale's choice to put Marc in an expensive three-piece suit seemed at odds with the "wannabe" aspect of the character, presenting a jarring juxtaposition. Costumes for Serge and Yvan, by contrast, are perfectly in tune with their characters. Could the costume partly explain why the climactic scene feels relatively tame, almost understated? The three men stay very civilized throughout—and Reza's script wants us to see the cracks in the veneer, the places where civilization crumbles and raw emotion is revealed.

That aside, the three performances are excellent, and you'll appreciate Reza's biting social commentary delivered by such first-class actors. Well worth the 90 minutes of your time, after which you'll have the rest of the evening to debate Serge's purchase.

Art by Yasmina Reza, presented by City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second Street, San Jose; through October 19, 2014. Tickets $17 - $32; available at or at 408-295-4200.

Photo: Mike Ko

- Jeanie K. Smith

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