The new production of Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play “Art,” which premieres Friday at 8:00 p.m. in St. Anthony Hall, exudes the smooth undertones of a Woody Allen movie and warms the palate with just a hint of bromance comedy. It exhibits just how well the perfect combination of cast, book and setting can transform a show.
The play, directed by Liba Vaynberg ’10, focuses around the conflict that erupts between three friends when one of them purchases a piece of art that is essentially a white canvas, for 200,000 francs. Serge (Adi Kamdar ’12), ever the modern man, professes how the color scheme moved him immediately, although the more classically minded Marc (Mark Sonnenblick ’12) rejects it immediately as a “piece of white shit.” The hapless Yvan (Stan Seiden ’10) oscillates hopelessly between them, as a debate over the meaning and value of art turns increasingly personal.
The set for the show is simple, in part because of the constraints of the hall, yet the old style leather chairs and dusty bookshelves seem just right. The most striking set piece may very well be an accidental one; the giant moose head that extends outward from the back wall with its perpetual gaze presides over the three friends’ arguments like the ghost of leisure past.
“Remember when hunting was cool?” it seems to ponder wistfully.
In a play that deals so heavily with what happens to bourgeois irony and culture after post-modernism (the white canvas in the background reiterates this vapidity), the mounted head acts as a reminder of a time when the middle class at least thought it knew what it was doing.
History is a tool well-wielded by Kamdar, Seiden, and Sonnenblick, all of whom act together on a regular basis as members of the Purple Crayon. Their dynamic conjures a thinking man’s “Three Stooges.” Seiden’s neurotic pacing is balanced perfectly with Kamdar’s unassuming calm. But it is Sonnenblick who really steals the show. His ability to inhabit a role is hard to match, and although Seiden and Kamdar both seem to understand their parts, it is really Sonnenblick who becomes his.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of the translation, but the steady increase in the frequency of expletives made me cringe. These characters are supposedly sophisticated enough to appreciate the nuances of modern art, and it seemed strangely inconsistent to hear them eff this and eff that.
Still, “Art,” if nothing else, is a real treat. Go for the performance; go for the laughs. But be forewarned: If you go planning to see an intense philosophical debate about the nature of art in contemporary society, you don’t get the joke.