note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Talented Saori Kaneko, who graduated from Salem State College (SSC) but lives in Tokyo,Japan, has traveled to Boston to direct three of her alumni cohorts and Counter Productions founding members in Yasmina Reza’s 1-1/2 hour, two-act, fast-paced, bittersweet comedy, “ART”.
Besides raising the question of difference in individuals’ artistic values, “ART” tests the value of true friendship, its solidity, and how far friends will or won’t go to sustain their relationship. When “ART,” the story about three upper class Parisian suburbanite friends, premiered in Paris in 1994, it earned three Moliere awards for best author, best production, and best play. It was also touted the best comedy in London and best foreign play in Germany; and its momentum continues.
Locally, the South End Piano Factory --- an intimate, hidden theater tucked away in the back of the huge, Tremont Street complex --- provides an ideal setting for the play.
Kaneko ensures Jess Schneider’s carefully planned, sparse set doesn’t detract from the characters. In the background hangs a 5-by-4-foot painting that’s a blank, white canvas. On the stage floor are three carefully-spaced, metaphorically symbolic triangles that serve as seats - like an unconnected seesaw with a centered fulcrum. There’s also a few bookcases and a stacked bar as background props, but that’s it. To indicate a shift in location, the white canvas rises and descends, replaced with changing paintings indicative of the three men’s individual tastes in art. Ian Conway’s lowkey lighting design and original musical compositions intensify the drama and levity between scenes.
Serge, a divorced dermatologist, fancies himself as an abstract art connoisseur. He bought the white painting for 200,000 francs, which, he tells Marc, his best friend for 15 years, he can re-sell for 220,000 francs if he wants to - but he doesn’t want to.
Marc, an aeronautical engineer, a pragmatic, self-proclaimed maverick who plays by his own rules, denigrates the painting. He calls Serge pompous and a social climber. Marc is upset, disgusted with Serge, who, in turn, says Marc is bitter, sardonic.
Their awkward friend Yvan, who has switched careers from textiles to stationery and is getting married in a few weeks, finds himself uncomfortably in the middle of his two best friends. Between his pre-marriage plans and his friends‘ potentially disastrous disagreement, Yvan tries to assuage both through neutrality, but raises their ire. Instead of appreciating Yvan’s peace-making efforts, they call him an amoeba, who lacks substance.
Ted Clement as Marc, Dave Perkinson as Serge, and Dan Grund as Yvan deliver powerful performances, playing off each other and during streams of consciousness. As tensions mount between Serge and Marc, Yvan provides comic relief, garnering hearty applause. A thought-provoking epilogue provides the finishing touches to the friends’ characters and the plot.
BOX INFO: Comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, presented by Counter Productions Theatre Company at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St., Boston, now through June 20. Performances are Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Thursday, June 10,17, pay-what-you-can night. Advance tickets, $15; at the door, $18. Visit www.theatermania.com/content/show.cfm/show/167817 or call 866-811-4111