Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Art"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Larry Stark


by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Saori Kaneko

Painting Design by Jess Schneider
Set Design by Jess Schneider
Costume Design by Jennifer Lindquist
Lighting Design by Ryan Kasle
Music Composer & Sound Design by Ian Conway
Assistant Director Meghan Hamilton
Technical Director Allie Gillaspie
Stage Manager Ian Conway

Marc........Ted Clement
Serge...David Perkinson
Yvan..........Dan Grund

I remember the first time I heard anything by Phillip Glass. A contemporary-music program played one of his early piano pieces from "Glass Works" --- a brief set of notes repeated without variation. Within minutes I was terrified. I felt trapped in a repeating maze of sound I'd never escape from, my mind beating on the walls screaming for release. But, the next time I heard it, it felt, well, short. And the next time, my mind recognized the piece and said "Oh yes, Phillip Glass; nice!" and wondered why I vaguely remembered being so upset the first time.
So, in Yasmina Reza's neat exploration of art and art criticism, when one man rails against a life-long friend for buying a 5x4-foot pure white "empty" canvas --- well, I empathize with both of them.

How often have I applauded a show I enjoyed only to have the friend (or the wife) sitting next to me murmur "God, wasn't it awful?" How many times have I been driving home with fellow-critics listening to clashing opinions none of which compared at all with my own? "Art" brings such situations to a full head of steam, forcing three old friends to choose between feelings for paintings and feelings for one another.

At one corner of this triangle is Ted Clement as the owner of the painting --- proud of a name-artist's work, who feels driven to the wall in defense of his taste. At another is blustery David Perkinson, insisting there is nothing to see there. And in the middle, Dan Grund can agree with either of his friends in private but is unwilling to choose --- perhaps because his own life is so hap-hazard and is more important than art.

The antagonists speak directly to the audience here, adding details or amplifying experiences, often offering asides in the midst of heated argument. And Director Saori Kaneko keeps an even hand, allowing each in turn to push the conflict to ridiculous extremes. The fact is that none of them can agree to disagree and move on --- that opinion of a painting actually does define each disagreeing personality, and there can be no friendly resolution short of destroying the painting itself.

Jess Schneider's set for this small stage is subtly eloquent: a modest set of well-read books neatly occupies a wall of book-case stage-right, while a tiny bar in which each friend can find a favorite drink on the other side leaves room center-stage for the painting. (Three, actually, since the scene changes to the comfortable living-rooms of three comfortable friends.) And in this tastefully understated intellectual boxing-ring are three identical seats --- identically triangular seats.

When young I argued loudly for Jackson Pollock against a father championing Winslow Homer (We compromised on John Marin); later I was bored before the work of Ad Reinhardt or Barnett Newman yet thrilled when Piet Mondrian or Clyfford Still did just about the same thing. De Gustibus, right? I won't mind these days, if you are dead wrong and dismiss "Art" as boring. But I hope you'll defend to the death my right to disagree.


( a k a larry stark )

"Art" (4 - 20 June)
@ The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide