Beauty of comic 'Art' lies in eye of beholder
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
There are two conditions that the audience must accept in order to enjoy Yasmina Reza's "Art." The first is that the three men in the play are genuine friends. The second is that their conversation is meaningful — at least to themselves.
If the production takes itself too seriously, that acceptance won't occur. So director Paul Mitri and the newly formed All The World Is a Stage Theatre Company has taken the right approach in emphasizing the play's humor.
The central incident is that Serge (Tony Young) has just paid $200,000 for an original painting done all in white. Marc (played by Mitri) responds to it with an expletive and an annoying, truncated horse whinny. Yvan (Ryan Wuestewald) plays the middle by trying to placate both friends.
The underlying premise is that people — like art — are defined by others' opinions.
The downside to the comic approach, however, is that the play immediately takes on the qualities of a television sitcom. The erudite and obtuse nattering over "art" could have been written for Niles and Frasier Crane. When the argument shifts to personal foibles, it plays like a "Seinfeld" episode.
But the cast is excellent in using the dialogue to shape characters who are insecure in themselves, but individually unique. Serge is concerned that he may be flaunting his wealth; Marc fears that he may be replaced by new friends; and Yvan desperately needs the others' approval.
The company also makes good use of the dialogue's "white space" by selectively using long pauses and varied timing to keep the tempo interesting.
Wuestewald delivers the show's longest monologue — a crescendo of desperation over the wording of his marriage invitation. When it abruptly ends at a pinnacle of manufactured desperation, Serge takes a beat before laconically prompting, "Go on?"
Despite an overabundance of rarified and needy chatter, the men's friendship — within the internal reality of the play — is proved to be real. When Serge decides to test that friendship by offering Marc a felt marker with which to deface the painting, the moment hits with a palpable jolt.
Set designer Chesley Cannon creatively covers the entire playing area — props included — with a large muslin ground cloth, offering up a canvas on which the characters can paint their conflict. In addition to Serge's ambiguous art, Marc and Yvan display paintings of their own when the scene shifts to their apartments.
Ultimately, Reza's play is built on a thin foundation, but generously layered with glib and articulate speech.
The new company's intent is to produce plays in a variety of venues and to keep them accessible. Admission to the Sunday performance is "pay what you can."
Joseph T. Rozmiarek has been reviewing Hawai'i theater since 1973.