Yasmina Reza’s play Art explores the nature of modern art and friendship and exposes the equal strangeness and subjectivity to be found in both. Same Day Theatre’s production of the play, translated by Christopher Hampton, has some great comedic moments, but overall comes off as a bit tedious and pretentious. Although on the shorter side, it dragged on by the end.
The story revolves around three male friends. Serge (Robert Marinier), a lover of all things “modern,” spends an exorbitant amount of money on a painting that is essentially two shades of white. This infuriates one of his best friends, Marc (David Frisch) to an irrational and boiling degree. Marc, a lover of traditional art, turns to sardonic looks and comments to express his frustration. The tension culminates in a full-out battle, all punches and verbal abuse. Smack dab in the middle, we find Yvan (played by Andy Messingham). A weak man who has never managed to focus on one profession and is not as well put together as his friends, he is nevertheless the one to call out the absurdity of the friends’ feud.
Director Peter James Haworth’s production moves along at a decent pace. He uses lighting to great affect, bathing different areas of the stage in a soft life so as to give characters and moments more weight and to create an atmosphere. This works particularly well, as there are quite a few asides, exposing us to the inner frustrations of the characters.
The acting is also good. Messingham’s Yvan is sometimes a bit too over the top, but his sarcastic comments are so well-timed and wittily delivered that you can’t help but be drawn to him. Marinier (Serge) and Frisch (Marc) both play their characters well and manage to come off as believable and, for all their characters’ ridiculousness and pomp, sympathetic. The actors share the stage equally, allowing each one to have their moment in the spotlight. This creates a satisfying pace between them, so their interactions, for the most part are a pleasure to watch.
However, despite these elements and performances, the play nevertheless ends up dragging on. The dialogue, all play on words, is indeed very witty, but also too convoluted and tiresome. I’m all for making jokes about Seneca and poking at the foibles of the art loving, self-involved class whose lack of confidence and unique personality forces it to seek validation in all those around it. However, balance is always key and this play, as well as the production, ends up being just off centre for me. The production would have benefited from a drawing back on some of the more dramatic parts for the comedy to shine through.