The Art of Friend­ship

In Yas­mina Reza’s Art, three friends are at odds as their dy­namic shifts

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Christo­pher Puhm

Yas­mina Reza’s play Art ex­plores in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and mod­ern aes­thet­ics in a solid pro­duc­tion at Vienna’s English The­atre.

What binds peo­ple to­gether? Long-term friend­ships are of­ten taken for granted, so when a 15-year-old con­nec­tion be­tween three broth­ers in arms un­rav­els, the ef­fect can be dev­as­tat­ing. But what could so abruptly threaten the deep bonds be­tween ra­tio­nal, in­tel­li­gent adults? Yas­mina Reza, a cel­e­brated Parisian play­wright, places a seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cle in front of her ed­u­cated, up­per-mid­dle class pro­tag­o­nists: A white paint­ing with a few barely vis­i­ble streaks of off-white color splat­tered across it. Serge, a der­ma­tol­o­gist and dab­bler in mod­ern art, has just pur­chased said paint­ing for €100,000 and can’t wait to show off the ac­qui­si­tion to his friends, Marc and Yvan. While the two friends can’t quite com­pre­hend Serge’s de­ci­sion to spend a small for­tune on a com­pletely white can­vas, Marc – the self-pro­claimed in­tel­lec­tual leader of the group – feels per­son­ally in­sulted by this sup­posed modernist mas­ter­piece, while Yvan – an in­ef­fec­tual fun­ny­man, at­tempts to in­fuse hu­mor into a sit­u­a­tion that has sud­denly turned sour. Since its 1994 pre­miere in Paris, the award-win­ning com­edy-drama has been per­formed world­wide; Christo­pher Hamp­ton, a play­wright and screen­writer who won an Os­car for Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons, did Reza jus­tice with a bril­liant English trans­la­tion. Reza has also writ­ten the plays The Un­ex­pected Man and God of Car­nage. The lat­ter was even adapted for the big screen by Ro­man Polan­ski.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…

The 90-minute play has been per­formed by il­lus­tri­ous casts in the past. The in­au­gu­ral Lon­don run was led by Al­bert Fin­ney, Tom Courte­nay and Ken Stott, and Vienna’s English The­atre’s pro­duc­tion has Marc, Serge and Yvan con­vince from their first en­trance onto the spar­ingly fur­nished sin­gle set. Un­der the di­rec­tion of ac­com­plished di­rec­tor and play­wright Sean Aita, Ge­orge Beach’s Marc and Howard Nightin­gall’s Serge en­gage in an in­spired ver­bal tug of war, with the hap­less Yvan – played by a very con­vinc­ing Charles Arm­strong – caught up in a tan­gled mess of in­jured egos. Look­ing hand­somely slick in his three-piece pin­stripe suit, Beach plays aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer Marc with a Cary Grant-like phys­i­cal­ity: Sway­ing back and forth like a metronome, hands per­pet­u­ally in his pock­ets, but in­fused with a not-socharm­ing mean streak. His fa­cial con­tor­tions are hi­lar­i­ous at first, but soon ex­pose an un­rea­son­able man who feels be­trayed by the newly as­sertive Serge. The ver­sa­tile Nightin­gall proves an ideal spar­ring part­ner for Beach – he looks ev­ery bit the well-to-do der­ma­tol­o­gist turned benev­o­lent in­tel­lec­tual who Marc now de­spises. And Arm­strong, a veteran stage and screen ac­tor, con­vinc­ingly por­trays Yvan as a di­rec­tion­less hus­band-to-be who sud­denly finds the refuge that is their friend­ship un­der threat. Bring­ing to life Reza’s tightly writ­ten play, the ex­cel­lent cast of­fers an ex­plo­ration of the com­plex dy­nam­ics of friend­ship. On the sur­face, the ques­tion seems to be, can one truly be friends with some­one who doesn’t share the same in­ter­ests? How­ever, as the trio’s rift threat­ens to be­come ir­re­versible, the white can­vas at the heart of their con­flict re­veals it­self to be merely the point of de­par­ture in the pur­suit of more un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the util­ity of friend­ships. Don’t ex­pect Art to give you easy an­swers.

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