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26 April 2009


A review from blueridgenow.com, http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20090423/NEWS/904239958/1151?Title=-Art-is-a-play-you-ll-ponder-on-the-way-home

'Art' is a play you'll ponder on the way home
By Bill Moss
Times-News Staff Writer

A fun exercise among old friends, having seen Art, the new play at Flat Rock Playhouse, would be to uncork a favorite bottle of wine and ask:

1. Who was right? Was Serge right to follow his heart and spontaneously shell out for a painting the amount most people would spend on a house? Was best friend Marc right to be upset about this? How could Yvan, the natural diplomat who has no opinions of his own, have moderated the war better?

2. Who do you know that’s like Yvan? How about Serge? How about Marc? (Marc, definitely.)

3. Is Art more suitable for 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings or beyond?

In other words, Art is the sort of play that we think about on the way home, and the next day.

An internationally acclaimed comedy originally in French, Art is tightly crafted and expertly acted by three Playhouse veterans — Scott Treadway (Serge), Bill Munoz (Marc) and Damian Duke Domingue (Yvan).

Longtime friends in real life, the three portray friends whose relationship is capsized by Serge’s purchase of a modern painting, the value of which only he can see.

The casting is perfect.

Serge, a dermatologist and art aficionado, starts the ruckus by buying the white-on-white painting, with faintly discernible lines signifying ... well, something, at least to him. Treadway is Treadway, rock-solid and reliably comic, marvelously quizzical in his reaction to both of his friends. As always, he is as good reacting to what’s around him as speaking.

Munoz turns in a strong performance of quiet rage, then not so quiet rage at the disintegration of the underpinning of his relationship with Serge, at least in his way of thinking.

As Yvan, Domingue delivers a hilarious story of the most mixed-up pre-wedding crisis you’ve ever heard, made even funnier by the thunderstruck reaction of his two friends.

The conflict starts at the very top, with Serge’s art purchase and Marc’s visceral negative reaction to it. The disagreement unearths an underlying hostility between the two, like pollution bubbling up from leaky barrels.

Marc cannot understand how his friend could “lose every ounce of discernment, for sheer snobbery.” Serge can’t stand Marc’s aggressive refusal to be “modern,” to “live in his time.”

Yvan finds himself in the middle, hapless and helpless. He’s got problems enough dealing with his fiancee, stepmother, mother and other wedding landmines, yet is pulled violently to and fro by Serge and Marc. It’s not enough that they’ve turned on each other; they turn on him, too.

He’s an ineffective umpire, stampeded and obliterated by a bench-clearing brawl of two. Serge and Marc in turn are catty, bull-headed and snarling as they intensify the battle.

There’s either a lot going on here, or not much, depending on your perspective. It’s "Seinfeld" if George, Kramer and Jerry had more money and better educations. And like a Seinfeld episode, it’s hard to see how the conflict can resolve at all, much less amicably.
* * *

This is all funnier than it sounds. It’s often hilarious. These three actors would excel at most anything the Playhouse could stage; the booster rocket of Art is the script, with its fast-paced repartee and truly funny lines. They don’t have to rescue weak material, as with a Norm Foster “comedy.”

Marc has become so unraveled over the art purchase that he takes to swallowing tranquilizers.

“What are you eating?” Serge asks.

“Ignatia,” Marc says.

“You believe in homeopathy now?”

“I don’t believe in anything.”

It’s a funny line but filled with meaning, too. Marc does believe strongly in friendship, and he feels that has been undercut. Eventually, we learn why he thinks Serge’s decision to spend $200,000 on a white-on-white canvas is such an affront.

Dennis Maulden’s set is spare; a script this strong does not require embellishment. Michael Mauren’s lighting is just right, not overbearing.
* * *

Art has gotten publicity for its use of the F word. Those loaded for a big scandal I think will be disappointed.

For the historical record, the word was uttered on the Flat Rock Playhouse stage for the first time at 8:49 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, 2009 AD.

“Yvan manages to be late for everything,” Serge says. “Where in the f--- is he?”

It’s uttered several more times, including a machine-gun repetition among all three characters arguing over who “f---ed up” the evening.

If you don’t want to hear the word, don’t go. It’s not hidden.

But it’s not a major star of the script by any means. Instead of an F-bomb, it’s a series of F-spitballs. It will be jarring to delicate ears, uttered from this well-loved stage, but hardly more offensive than the sex-saturated cheating housewife dramas and double entendre-laced sitcoms that ooze through our TV sets.

Art is much more entertaining than the small-screen stuff, and less offensive than a lot of movies on the big screen.

Volumes have been devoted to the meaning of art and the meaning of friendship. Art, the play, combines that exploration in a most enjoyable and provocative way.

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