note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Parisian playwright Yasmina Reza is riding on a super-successful wave in Boston, with New Repertory Theatre’s extraordinary production of her award-winning play, “ART,” her highly touted,Tony Award-winning play “God of Carnage,” (currently appearing at Huntington Theatre), and its movie version, “Carnage,” appearing in theaters nationally and locally.
“ART,” you’ll remember, is the story of three upper class Parisian suburbanite friends, who disagree on whether a painting is a masterpiece, thus creating a rift in their 15-year relationship. The play was inspired by an actual experience with a friend of Reza’s, who bought an expensive expressionist “monochrome” painting, which are generally considered by admirers and some critics as masterpieces. Besides raising the question of individuals’ artistic differences, “ART” tests the value of friendship and how far friends will go to sustain their relationship. The play premiered in Paris in 1994 and earned three Moliere awards for best author, best production, and best play; was touted best comedy in London and best foreign play in Germany; has been performed in 35 languages, and grossed more than $200 million.
And while “Carnage” and “God of Carnage” are enjoying enormous success, New Rep’s version of “ART” is so superbly crafted, it’s a joy to see, regardless of whether you’ve seen it elsewhere. Actors Doug Lockwood as lonely, insecure Yvan, Robert Pemberton as pragmatic, opinionated Marc and Robert Walsh as successful dermatologist divorcee Serge, who espouses the finer things and people in life, have impeccable timing. Aided by Director Antonio Ocampo-Guz man, this trio flawlessly defines their characters.
Although Justin Townsend’s fine set serves as all three characters’ homes, Townsend’s lighting and quick-switching of suspended paintings accentuates those changes. Serge hasn’t hung his painting yet. He busily moves around his white-on-white, 4-by-3-foot “masterpiece” he bought for 200,000 francs, to admire it in different lighting before he decides where it’ll hang. Proudly, he tells Marc a gallery has already offered him 220,000 francs for it.
Marc, a married aeronautical engineer and self-proclaimed maverick, guffaws at the thought. He calls Serge pompous and a social climber. In turn, Serge says Marc is controlling, bitter, and sarcastic. Marc’s home is tastefully adorned with an Old World housescape.
Their awkward friend Yvan, who has been in therapy for six years, is lonely and insecure, calling himself a buffoon. His apartment is decorated with a typical landscape, which the other two call “motel art” - until Serge suddenly remembers Yvan’s father had painted it.
Yvan recently switched careers from textiles to stationery, working for his fiancee’s uncle. Yvan’s getting married soon and is uncomfortably in the middle of his two best friends’ conflict - and battling mother and stepmothers disagreeing on whose name should appear on the invitation. Yvan tries to assuage Serge and Marc through neutrality, but raises their ire. They call him an amoeba, who lacks substance. Instead of focusing on Serge’s painting, Reza shifts to the three men’s relationship. Exasperated, Yvan cries, “Why do we see each other if we hate each other? You hate each other and you hate me.”
Do they, or after 15 years, have they decided to examine their friendship and themselves, through conflict and stream of consciousness?
Lockwood, Pemberton and Walsh deliver compelling performances - a work of art - that keep the audience’s attention riveted throughout.
BOX INFO: One-act, award-winning 90-minute play written by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, appearing at New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, through Feb. 5. Performances are Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 3, at 8 p.m.; Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. with talkback; Feb. 4, at 3 and 8 p.m. Tickets:$28-$58; seniors, $7 off; student rush, $20. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.