What is art? What is friendship? What is the value of a piece of art? What is the value of friendship? These are just some of the questions which are put forth in Yasmina Reza’s French-language play Art that has been translated into English by Christopher Hampton and is now in production at Blank Canvas theater.
Though billed as a comedy, the play, which centers on a long-time friendship between Serge, Marc and Yvan, burrows more into the realm of drama. The incident that kicks off the probe into the values of a variety of subjects, both real and emotional, centers on Serge, who has a penchant for modern art, buying a large, expensive, white painting. Well, depending on the lighting and the viewer’s imagination, white or maybe white on white, or white with white stripes. Whatever, it’s a $200,000, as Marc states, “Piece of sh*t.”
Often argumentative Marc, who seems to have no “speak what I think or feel” valve, is horrified by Serge being “had” by his desire to be on the ‘in” of the trends, strongly affected by what “they” think.
As a result of the war over white, the friendship suffers a severe strain. Serge is miffed. Marc is astounded by Serge’s naïve purchase. The real issue, however, is below the surface. The foundation on which their friendship gets unearthed in their arguments, and the end of their connection is near.
In steps Yvan, a court jester-type friend who has neither the intellectual or debate abilities to spar with the fierce duo. Why he is even a friend of Marc and Serge becomes an instant question. He, like many court jesters, plays the role of emotional release. He babbles on, jokes, naively makes pronouncements. He’s good for a laugh.
Of course, Yvan, caught in the middle of the conflict, tries to please and mollify both combatants, to no avail. He rambles on about the problems regarding his upcoming wedding, overacts the effects of whose names are going to appear on the invitations, and acts out his dramatic and angst-filled telephone conversations with his mother.
What’s the real issue? Is Marc scornful of the painting, or the uncharacteristic independence of thought that the purchase reveals in Serge?
For the insecure Yvan, burdened by the problems of his impending doom wedding where he is stuck in an insoluble problem and his dissatisfaction at his job as a stationery salesman, is it anything other than his need for friendship, no matter the cost?
For Serge, is it his need to be accepted, positively regarded by “them,” the art “aficionados” or his desire to break from the seeming control that Marc holds over him?
What is the value of art? What is the value of friendship?
The Blank Canvas production, under the direction of Lara Mielcarek , is a work of art in and of itself. The characters are clearly drawn, the pace appropriately rapid, the script adjustment turning the play from a series of short scenes to a ninety-minute one act is effective.
Brian Pedaci properly rages as the powerful, controlling Marc. He is a bull in an emotional china shop, needing to control, and angst filled when challenged.
Chris D’Amico, appropriately dressed in a Victor Vasarely op-ed patterned sweater, is totally on track as the insecure Serge, both needing assurance and wanting to make decisions on his own that prove he is more than a friend in need.
Though he overacts in his long wedding planning monologue, performing more with farce rather than a comedy slant, Michael N Herzog is properly pathetic as Yvan.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Art is a fine example of thinking-persons theater. It is the type of script that stays with the viewer a long time after the production, encouraging probing into the value of not only art, but friendships and relationships. Blank Canvas helps the thinking process with a strong production.
Art runs through Sat 4/20. For tickets and directions go to blankcanvastheatre.com.
[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]