THREE FRIENDS MEET TO TALK ABOUT “ART” AND THEIR FRIENDSHIPS ARE TESTED, IT IS FUNNY AND ENGAGING.
BRING YOUR OWN PICTURE FRAME.
Center Repertory Company's production of ART, now on stage at the Margaret Lesher Stage through April 30th, paints the perfect picture that there is a deeper truth to what we think we see. Do we believe that one can appreciate artistic simplicity. Can we put a price tag on it. ART the play about a white painted 4 X 5 foot canvas worth $200,000 paints a comedic twist on how we appreciate modern art and our friendships. Written by Playwright Yasmina Reza (God of Carnage), ART is a French language play translated by Christopher Hampton, it premiered on October 28, 1994 at the Comedie des Champs-Elysees in Paris before moving to West End and Broadway. Playing in New York from February 1998 through August 1999, ART opening-night cast featured Alan Alda (Marc), Victor Garber (Serge), and Alfred Molina (Yvan), who snagged a Tony-nomination for Best Actor. Eventually, ART won the Tony Award for Best Play and went on to a 600-performance run. The play makes it second return to Walnut Creek, as I have seen this work a few times, each trip with these three men is always eye opening.
Directed by the accomplished Michael Butler, his creative team at times is center stage with a brilliant set and light design by Kurt Landisman and Joshua Lipps. The set becomes one of the characters in this tale of defining friendship. It is a black box that is itself a framed picture. The comedy raises issues about art and how we perceive it to be. The focus is on the true nature of a 15-year friendship between three men of age, Serge, Marc, and Yvan. Serge (Liam Vincent) indulges himself with a new compulsion for modern art by purchasing a white painting at top dollar. Marc (J. Michael Flynn) is in complete shock about Serge’s new squeeze, and their friendship dives into a strain of worry, differing opinions, and resentment. All to do with “what is art,” Yvan (Cassidy Brown) gets sandwiched into the bickering of his two dear friends, pleading for pacification. Yvan’s first hilarious monologue says it all about his questionable friendships "If I am who I am because I am who I am and you are who you are because you are who you are then I am who I am and you are who you are, but if I am who I am because you are who you are and you are who you are because I am who I am then I am not who I am and you are not who you are."
The actors never leave the stage when not engaged in the sections. They sit far on either side away from the apartment like setting. It is a one act play with clever scene changes incorporated in the lighting transitions. There are several monologues in the show that are directed towards the audience where each character walks into a special point down stage, lighting them, and bringing them to that 4th wall. Most of the story takes place in Serge’s flat, but the surrounding nature is always the white painting. Serge mentions a rat that runs loose in his elegant apartment that he could care less about, but sets up the idea that this setting could be a maze for these three men or mice.
At first glance, an audience member is welcomed into the flat, designed by Scenic Designer Joshua Lipps. It is an all-white monochromatic color palette of furniture and walls, except for the large red carpet in the middle and the multi-colored backlit framed art on the walls. Landisman’s lighting scheme for the cubicles add a colorful sense of pace, personifying the character’s inner emotions. It also adds a digitized setting which invokes a futuristic way of looking at art. Theodore J.H. Hulsker’s sound design is a perfect mix of techno sounds and light mood changes as the three first rate actors move from scene to scene. Victoria Livingston-Hall cleverly toned costumes make the men authentic with grey and earthy tones, making them stand out on Lipps’ set. Serg look is sleek and post modern with sockless shoes and thin pants and jacket, which complements the dapper look of Marc's scarfs and arrogance. I was most impressed with Yvan’s look, since Brown is the one who needs to roll and bounce off the set pieces. His hoodie and polo top is flawless and the grey stripe color mix is well crafted. Less than 90 minutes, this French comedy is elegantly drawn like a soft brush of subtext as we are forced to stare at the white canvas and maybe see ourself.
Butler has cast three accomplished actors: Liam Vincent a Center Rep vet, and was the highlight at Cal Shakes production of “Irma Vep”. J. Michael Flynn, who started his career on “General Hospital” is an important vet of Bay Area theatre. Cassidy Brown returns to the Center Rep after his stunning performance in “39 Steps”. The three are superb portraying longtime friends thrown into crisis after one has bought the modern painting for a sum that challenges their value systems and friendships. They make a distinctive trio in a comedy that draws out their playful spirited personalities. .
Butler’s fast paced direction brings out full flavors of each actor’s take on the characters. Local favorite Liam Vincent’s Serge is touching, innocent, serene, and so delicate that J. Michael Flynn’s compulsive, cantankerous, top maverick, narcissistic Marc breaks and intensifies the inner peace of Serge. This falls into an awkward and uncontrollable discomfort for the sweet and sympathetic nature of Cassidy Brown’s Yvan. Brown’s portrayal of Yvan is marvelous, especially during his breathless monologue about his mother and step-mothers, making him incredibly nervous, stressed, and about to pass out during his best friends bickering. The cast is highly comedic, great on timing, and just pushes the envelope as the story defines their friendship with a very clever ending. It is worth staring at that white canvas as the play fades to black. ART is strong, sophisticated, and a simple memorandum to the strength of friendship. This is an excellent production and a great way to open your summer theatre season.
Center Repertory Company Presents
By Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Michael Butler
Featuring Liam Vincent, Cassidy Brown, and J.Michael Flynn
Through April 30th
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $33-$53; 925-943-7469,
more info at www.centerrep.org
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CenterREP/