Sunday, February 20, 2011

Theatre AUM: "Art"

Yasmina Reza's one act play Art has become an industry in itself, grossing over $30-million worldwide since its 1994 debut in France, and in its receiving numerous awards for playwrighting, acting, and productions.

Its latest incarnation is currently showing at Theatre AUM under the cautious direction of Val Winkelman on Michael Krek's appropriately minimalist set.

Cautious it is, taking a scant hour to complete -- an hour that rushes through many moments that call out to be savored at some length, or that seems tentative in allowing silences so audiences can digest its glittering dialogue, its provocative ideas, and its complex relationship developments. -- Nonetheless, its ensemble cast of three talented actors debate the nature of art, but more importantly disect their relationships and try to comprehend the value of friendship.

Often referred to as a "play for actors", Ms. Reza's script affords each one plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their various skills. -- The plot is simple: Serge [La'Brandon Tyre] has just bought an all-white painting by a well-known artist named Antrios for 200,000 francs. His two long-time friends have quite different reactions both to the painting and to the price. Marc [Chris Howard] hates it and doesn't mind saying so, while Yvan [Wes Milton], who never wants to offend anyone, is ambivalent.

If this sounds familiar, AUM's recent production of Moliere's The Misanthrope also analyzes how speaking one's mind, or trying to be politically correct, or allowing others' opinions to dictate one's own self-worth, often create tensions and cause people to reassess what means the most to them. -- So it is here.

Though there is no explanation of how the 15-year friendship among them began, though the "all white painting" central to the debate is both textured and contains various shades of white & cream [choices that remain puzzling], and though the art critisicm is given slight attention, the play's tight structure, its combination of dramatic scenes interspersed with short "aside comments" or more lengthy monologues, its even balance of attention on all three characters, its witty dialogue, and its moment-to-moment plotting make it an actor's dream to play.

As the men meet by twos and then by threes, they discover not only that each one keeps secrets about their private lives, but about how they truly feel about one another. Marc is seen as a smug and insensitive sort, Serge as an art diletante, and Yvan as a henpecked wimp though it is two weeks before his wedding day.

As tensions build, the defenses come down, and gradually each man changes a bit. They have all realized that words can hurt, especially when they are trying to defend something they believe in that others attack. And sometimes words are inadequate.

Ms. Reza modulates her script so it starts relatively slowly, builds to an inevitable fight and has a slow denouement. Along the way, we see the silliness of being too attached to material things, the arch pretentiousness that begs to be quashed, and a milquetoast get a bit of backbone.

Ms. Winkelman stages her actors in several triangular positions, highlighting the interdependence of the relationships, and the actors -- to a man -- distinguish themselves in embodying their characters most credibly, displaying their acting talents with energetic enjoyment, and serving Ms. Reza's words.