Last night I attended a performance of the play Art by Yasmina Reza produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It was an invigorating evening of thoughtful dialogue on art, and humor abounded, albeit in sometimes sarcastic tones; but more importantly, the play demonstrated the nature of friendship and how differences among friends can strain their relationship.
The comedy, which raises questions about art and friendship, concerns three long-time friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan; played respectively by John Procaccino, Francis Guinan and K. Todd Freeman*. Serge, indulging his penchant for modern art, buys a large, expensive, completely white painting. From the opening scene of the play Marc is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain as a result of their differing opinions about what constitutes "art". Yvan, caught in the middle of the conflict, tries to please and mollify both of them (at least for a while until the strain of doing so becomes too great).
The play is not divided into acts and scenes in the traditional manner, but it does nevertheless fall into sections. Some of these are dialogues between two characters, several are monologues where one of the characters addresses the audience directly, and one is a conversation among all three. At the beginning and end of the play, and for most of the scenes set in Serge's flat, the large white painting is on prominent display.
I found the play to be stimulating and the overall contrast between the apparent simplicity of the white painting, magnified by the monotone shades of the set, best described as different shades of white, and the complexity of the relationships between the men were important themes. The vivid and biting dialogue was always laced with vigorous humor that leavened the more serious aesthetic and philosophical questions that were being discussed. The extremes displayed by the three characters combined to create a tension that was not eased until the coda of the play, and then it was questionable whether the actual ending was satisfactory or believable. But that is for the audience to determine for themselves. Overall it was a great evening of serious comedy.
*Please note that the cast will be changing for future performances. Marc will be played by Ian Barford from 4/7-6/7. Yvan will be played by Joe Dempsey from 3/14-6/7. Serge will be played by Francis Guinan (who is currently in the role of Marc) from 4/7-6/7.