Who would have thought that a ‘white canvas painting’ three feet by four feet without a frame, could wreak such comedy havoc between three old friends? That in a nutshell is the gist of the story of the blisteringly funny comedy ‘ART’, written by Iranian-born, but French-raised, Tony Award winning-playwright Yasmina Reza.
English playwright Christopher Hampton (who works on all of Reza’s plays) provides ‘ART’, with not only a witty, and insightful translation, he delivers a script chock full of biting dialogue for the sensational trio of gifted actors: Chuck Yates (Marc), Larry Raben (Serge), and David Engle (Ivan) spin his words into theatrical gold under the deft direction of Don Amendolia.
‘ART’ is a story that crosses generational lines, international borders and multi-cultures, that resonates with people everywhere because we have all seen our friends and relatives in situations the three characters find themselves in, despite the fact that it’s set in Paris. The play is not just about a painting; it’s about how we react when our friends’ secret agendas bubble up from their subconscious when they’re innocently asked for an opinion. The meat of the play unfolds in the interaction of these three friends and is a favorite device in many of Reza’s plays like ‘God of Carnage’, another of her Tony-winning plays.
In ‘ART’, Serge, a divorced, successful dermatologist and a culture-driven art collector, has purchased a painting for $50,000 dollars and can’t wait to share his purchase with Marc his best friend of fifteen years. Marc has always fancied himself as Serge’s mentor in all things cultural. In the past, Serge usually consulted with Marc before making a purchase; this time, he didn’t. He made a spur-of-the-moment- decision and now is eager to get Marc’s approval.
Marc can best be described as an anal-retentive, irritating nitpicker who has a gift for always being right and enjoys the rough and tumble of these spirited exchanges with Serge and Ivan, or anyone else who will listen to him spout-off. When he and Serge discuss the painting, Marc is appalled, not only at the priced Serge paid for it, but he disses the painting as utter crap, forcing Serge to defend his purchase. The result is both men agree, after verbally fencing and insulting one another, to see what Ivan thinks of it.
Ivan is not the cultural or monetary equal of Serge or Marc. He is a middle-class working type who has just begun a job in a stationery store owned by his future father-in-law. The three despite their backgrounds, however, are compatible best friends.
The beauty of this stellar production lies in the performances of its three extremely talented actors and the deliciously incendiary dialogue of playwright Reza. Just when one thinks that all the one-upmanship lines each actor hurls to the other, that the final salvo has been fired, another round of sparkling, zinger-laden put-downs begins all over again. I’ve seen four professional productions of ‘ART’ over the years and I wouldn’t exchange this trio for any who have performed Reza’s lacerating comedy of male friendship and honesty.
Director Amendolia keeps the pace crackling and wisely allows his three stars to flesh out and mine every comedy nugget to the fullest. It’s a terrifically entertaining comedy production that also affords the audience time to absorb what is taking place on stage, and to reflect upon its deeper and more sobering meanings.
“ART’’s creative team led by director Amendolia delivers solid technical support from set designer Josh Clabaugh, and a tricky lighting design by Moira Wilkie (who just created the lighting design for CV REP’s ‘I Am My Own Wife’ which I saw last week), required to see the costumes designed by Bonnie Nipar. This splendid production should not be missed by Coachella Valley audiences.
The production performs at the Annenberg Theatre, Palm Springs, and runs through April 3, 2016. For reservations and ticket information call the box office at 760-318-0024.