Review: ART

by Lynn on September 2, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Written by Yasmina Reza

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Philip Akin

Set by Gillian Gallow

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Oliver Dennis

Huse Madhavji

Diego Matamoros

A discourse of sorts on art and on friendship. For all its esoteric musings, the play is slight.

The Story.  This takes place in France. Marc muses on Serge, one of his oldest friends, who just bought a painting that is a white canvas with fine white diagonal lines in it. Serge paid 200,000 francs for it. During the course of the play Marc calls the painting ‘shit.’ Serge is offended. They are after all, friends. But that comment of “shit” has caused a rift. Marc then wants to talk to their mutual friend Yvan. Yvan is tolerant and fair-minded and a bit of a wimp. He has his own problems. He’s getting married to a strong woman and is going to work for her uncle in his stationery business. Yvan lets it be known that he is a failure in business. Marc philosophizes on his friendship with Serge and their friendship with Yvan. And they talk about modern art and what it means and the value of a painting as opposed to its worth with regards to who painted it.

 The Production. Gillian Gallow has designed the set. She is a fine designer as has been seen in the past. But this set mystified me. Besides there being a neutral coloured couch stage right and two black leather chairs stage left, up centre is a huge floor to ceiling, wide white panel. That is not the painting that Serge bought. This white panel seems to be a wall in Serge’s appartment (as well as in other locations). Now what is that if not something to upstage the actual painting that is much smaller when put in front of it? It’s true the stage directions says that the wall should be something on which to project the paintings in other locations, but it’s white! And it’s unadorned for much of the play. A miscalculation in design here I think.   Is that what director Philip Akin wanted? Mystifying, since the stage directions are pretty helpful: “A single set. As stripped-down and neutral as possible….”

Oliver Dennis as Marc presents the arguments on friendship and art in a reasoned, intellectual way. His body language is easy, confident and perhaps even superior. Being superior is Marc’s reason for being in this friendship with Serge. He objects to the painting not only because it’s “shit”, but also because Serge didn’t ask Marc’s advice before he bought it. Marc needs Serge to depend on him and if he goes ahead and buys a painting, “shit” notwithstanding without asking Marc’s advice, then his world comes crashing down.

As Serge, Diego Matamoros has the glee of a kid who just got the best present in the world. He feels euphoric to have acquired the painting. He takes a few days to examine it privately before he allows anyone else (Marc) to see it. He takes pride in showing it to Marc and is upset when Marc laughs at it and denigrates its importance and beauty.

Both Oliver Dennis and Diego Matamoros are champs when bantering with purpose back and forth; lobbing the arguments; keeping the fury in check until it explodes. The furrowed brow and the pained look speaks volumes with these two go at it.

As Yvan the friend who has no opinions except the norm, Huse Madhavji seems tentative, not as confident as the other two actors (I said “actors” not “character”). One must be confident to see both sides of the argument and I just think Madhavji is overpowered by the other two gifted actors.

While I think the play is slight, trying to whip up an argument on friendship and modern art, Yasmina Reza has a keen sense of the theatrical. Something happens to the painting and no matter where I have seen this play-New York, London, Toronto etc.—the audience gasps as if a true piece of art has been compromised. No matter how much the painting is criticized as “shit”, the audience believes it’s art. I love that manipulation of the audience.

Comment. Art appears to be an examination of friendship and modern art, the later is a volatile subject since it’s so subjective.  These friendships are so odd when put under the microscope. Marc needs to be needed and depended upon by Serge. He is hurt that Serge didn’t ask his advice about buying the painting. Serge is more independent that Marc allows himself to think. In the end Marc comes up with an eye-brow-raising story about the painting to keep his friendship with Serge. And of course friendships are odd things when you look at how both Marc and Serge embrace Yvan who is not their intellectual equal. I guess they need him so they both can feel good about themselves. As I said, slight.

Soulpepper Presents:

Began: Aug. 9, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 7, 2019. (held over until Sept. 7).

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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