By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Rick Snyder
Evocative and Cerebral – Art is a Delightful Comedy about Friendship
Like the white-on-white painting at the center of Yasmina Reza’s masterful play Art, now at Steppenwolf, the show itself is open to interpretation. Art centers on three long-time Parisian male friends and the conflict that arises when one of them spends a large sum of money on a canvas that is essentially white – as in blank. One can faintly detect a few diagonal lines in shades of gray-ish in the blankness, but as for meaning or emotion, all of that depends on what the beholder chooses to ascribe to it. If this metaphor for life and friendship works for you, you will find an astute commentary on the nature of being human in this deliciously funny work.
John Procaccino portrays the modern-art fanatic Serge, who has spent some 200,000 francs for the 4’x5’ canvas. It is the creation of a highly in-vogue artist and Serge, expecting to cash in on his investment with copious amounts of admiration from his buddies, is crushed when Marc (Francis Guinan) insensitively calls the pricy acquisition a “white piece of shit.” The resulting explosion of repressed emotion is a gusher that threatens to destroy their friendship as it gurgles to the surface. Razor sharp, lightning paced humor propels the audience through a roller coaster of insights into how human beings compete for power within relationships, how they define others in terms of themselves, how time changes matters, and the indefinable essence of friendship itself. Yvan (K. Todd Feeman) is the third pal caught in the middle. His personal life is such a mess that his only refuge is the three-way friendship that they share. As the porous foundation of that friendship shifts underneath him, poor Yvan teeters on the brink of insanity. I kept wishing that the show would slow down just a moment to let me process all that I was seeing – definitely not a blank canvas at all – but the purpose of Art is not answers. It is a witty journey of stirred up questions that theatergoers can wrestle with after they exit the building. Procaccino, Guinan and Freeman are superb, delivering memorable and hilarious moments.
Director Rich Snyder’s rapid pace is the right choice after all and Art has the beautiful technical support that abounds at Steppenwolf. Kevin O’Donnel’s original music dances with Antje Ellermann’s ingenious mechanical set to move the events about from one Paris flat to another. Art is soothing and is as esthetically pleasing to the eye and ear as it is to the mind. As part of Steppenwolf’s season dedicated to the human imagination, Art is a perfect selection and a must see for those who enjoy having their minds teased with no pretense of resolution. Very funny and a happy ending to boot.
Review by Randy Hardwick
At Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL, Call 312033501650, www.steppenwolf.org, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday matinees at 3 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.