Group: The Black Rep
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: May 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: From $17 to $38; contact 314-534-3807 or www.theblackrep.org
Story: Serge is particularly proud of himself. The Parisian dermatologist has just purchased a work of art by a prominent artist, and can’t wait to show it off to his good friend Marc. Disappointment ensues, however, when Marc, a successful and practical businessman, is aghast to learn that Serge paid 200,000 francs for a 4-foot-by-5-foot white canvas supposedly adorned with a few white stripes. Marc gives Serge his honest opinion, hurt feelings ensue and a rift develops in their friendship. They enlist their mutual friend, Ivan, for his thoughts about the ‘masterpiece,’ but Ivan’s nervous neutrality only exacerbates the tensions. So, what is more important, honest observations or camaraderie and true friendship?
Highlights: French playwright Yasmina Reza’s one-act comedy has been performed throughout the world since its debut in 1994. The English translation by Christopher Hampton is heavy on intellectual discourse and witty repartee between the three characters, who in the polished Black Rep production directed stylishly by Andrea Frye are stamped with the impressive imprints of three accomplished actors, namely Black Rep producing director Ron Himes, Tim Schall and Robert A. Mitchell.
Other Info: That’s significant, because “Art” essentially is a bit of a trifle, a single idea that meanders on for an hour and 45 minutes without really saying much of significance beyond the obvious, that beauty and art are subjective and that true friendship requires loyalty, love and understanding. While there are plenty of humorous moments in Reza’s script, it’s overblown and lightweight entertainment that doesn’t particularly challenge its audience, a tasty soufflé with few substantive calories.
That said, Frye elicits a trio of marvelous performances, and benefits as well from some nifty technical work by her designers. Linda Kennedy’s costumes precisely match the characters, from the somewhat ragtag wardrobe of “career failure” Ivan to the stuffy attire of the snobbish, traditionalist Marc to the colorful, snazzy garb of dilettante Serge.
Dunsi Dai’s set of tall walls allows for plenty of overhead lighting by David Warfel that shines not only on the looming title piece but also the modish apartment of Serge, while a trio of windows hanging above the stage perhaps reflects the thoughts of the individual characters. Erin Keller and Doug Schroeder add a jaunty sound design to enhance proceedings.
Himes’ impeccable delivery savors each of Serge’s lines, shrewdly capturing his character’s enchantment with the world of art as much as any knowledge he may actually possess. Schall’s depiction of Marc emphasizes his repressed character’s stuffiness and knee-jerk adherence to ‘normal’ standards, while Mitchell, as a meek textile worker-turned-sales clerk on the brink of marriage, employs the most physical schtick as he crawls around his apartment searching for the cap of a felt tip pen that plays a crucial role in the proceedings.
Theirs are charming and finely tuned performances that are keys to the success of this production and for the somewhat effete work itself. Don’t think too much about how Ivan ever managed to become friends with the other two characters at all, given their different social strata, or the sometimes artificial nature of their relationships. After all, “Art” is in the eye of the beholder.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.