What constitutes art?
Is the meaning of art merely subjective, given value only through the eyes of its beholder?
Could true friends disagree yet maintain remain civil, or does disagreement extinguish these relationships?
French playwright Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art, raises these questions and more in Theatre Three‘s current production in Port Jefferson, but it also allows audiences to draw their own conclusions.
Reza claims the play is based on a true story, when her friend bought an extremely expensive white painting. The idea of the white painting is a clever device—the antithesis of Kazimir Malevich’s iconic 1915 painting “Black Square,” which is literally what its title describes, and his assertion that the work evoked the concept of pure non-objective creation. Reza plays with the notion of representation versus the conceptual and abstract, and price versus value.
The play premiered in 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Elysées in Paris, then subsequently London in 1996, and on Broadway in 1998 where it won the Tony for Best Play and went on to a 600-performance run. It is interesting to note that Sean Connery took part in producing Art in London and Broadway.
Linda May directs this Theatre Three production with impeccable timing. May has assembled a finely tuned cast who bounce barbs back and forth like tennis pros. The play features three male actors, with Steve Ayle as Serge, Antoine Jones as Marc, and Matt Senese as Yvan. Each actor is perfect in his roles as they banter with one another through the frenetic, 90-minute, single act structure that at times breaks the fourth wall, allowing each actor to escape from the action of a scene and speak directly to the audience.
Serge is a debonair, wealthy dermatologist who has just paid $50,000 for a blank white canvas adorned with a few white lines by a modern artist. He proudly displays the painting to his old friend Marc (Jones), whose traditional tastes cause him to not only question such an expensive purchase but to cynically call the painting “white sh_t.” Marc’s derision of the painting and Serge’s reckless waste of money spills into other hard feelings he’s been harboring toward Serge.
Enter the mediator friend, Yvan, who is consumed with worries about his impending wedding, particularly how to word the invitations without insulting his mother and his father’s present wife who his dad insists must be named on the invitations. Yvan’s soliloquy on how tortured he is over the plans for his wedding is a hysterical display of Senese’s comedic chops.
When Marc confronts Yvan about his supposed approval of the painting, Yvan diplomatically replies, “I didn’t hate the painting, but I didn’t like it either.”
Marc fires back at Yvan, asking, “How can you hate nothing?”
Clever quips, asides, monologues and dialogue build this play to a gasping, confrontational ending.
Randall Parsons’ set, comprising three giant screens as a backdrop appears like a metaphor engulfing the actors in the same chaos the white painting has brought to their lives. The stage is sparsely furnished with a sofa at center, chair to the left and another chair on the right. The austere setting rightly draws focus to this marvelous trio of actors.
Robert W. Henderson, Jr.’s lighting design is appropriately full during dialogue scenes, and signals the asides as they happen.
Share this show with your best friends. You’ll have much to discuss as you ponder the fragility of even the best relationships.
Art continues at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson (412 Main Street) through February 2.
Find showtimes and tickets at theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.