It all begins with a blank canvas. Doesn’t everything. But who could have imagined what would happen when one of three friends purchases just that– and all hell breaks loose? That’s precisely what French playwright Yasmina Reza imagined in her play ‘ART,’ a terrifically engaging and very well-played dramedy? tragicomedy?– now onstage at the NEW REP in Watertown. (Reza won the Tony for GOD OF CARNAGE which is playing across town and covers similar terrain– more about that soon!)
I saw ‘ART’ on Broadway, and this production is every bit as engrossing. It all begins when Serge purchases a “white” painting– literally a solid 3′ by 4′ rectangle painted white– with, perhaps, some barely visible white diagonal lines. It cost $200 thousand dollars. Why? Well, it’s an “Antrios,” Serge proudly declares. This immediately gets under Marc’s skin. Two hundred thousand dollars???? He’s incredulous–and we’re off!
The subject isn’t really the painting, or even what constitutes “art.” The subject is “value”– how do we determine “value,” including our own self-worth. The painting becomes a rorschach for Serge and Marc’s relationship, how they value each other, and eventually a third friend– Yvan, who’s a bit of a wimp. Yvan has no opinion, doesn’t want to take sides, is on the verge of a complicated marriage, and just wants to go out for dinner. As Serge tries to defend the painting’s price tag, and Marc continues to hammer away at him, they both turn on Yvan who collapses in a heap of neediness and tears.
The characters are stripped down to their emotional skivvies. Marc feels betrayed; clearly Serge has replaced him with this pretentious painting. Serge feels the sting of Marc’s bruised ego, and Yvan is caught in the cross fire of two alpha males gone wild. The three men are perfectly cast–Robert Walsh plays Serge as a bit of an elegant prig, but somehow saner and more compassionate than Robert Pemberton’s portly, hot-tempered narcissist Marc. Doug Lockwood’s tall, thin almost goofy Yvan has just the right balance of nebbish and mench. The set is a spare backdrop for each man’s apartment, the various pieces of artwork each man chooses to hang there, and what each painting signifies about who that man is.
The production is steadily and surely directed by Antonio Ocampo-Guzman to a “make or break climax.” Art, friendship, and each man’s very humanity are on the line– and we’re on the edge of our seats.
Don’t miss ‘ART ‘at the NEW REP THEATRE through February 5!