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Theater Review: "Art"

(c) The Hollywood Reporter

October 24, 2000

By Ed Kaufman

This "Art" Is Wise and Witty / South Coast Rep serves French comedy well

Yasmina Reza's wise, witty comedy-drama "Art" -- whose London production received the prestigious Olivier Award in 1996-97 and is still playing at the Wyndham Theatre -- is a gem of a show that is wonderfully well-served at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., where it runs through Nov. 19.

As translated by Christopher Hampton from its original French version, Reza's Tony-winning play, which clocks in at an intermissionless 80 minutes, is swift and sparse, much like the minimalist art at the heart of the matter.

Credit director Mark Rucker for capturing and sustaining "Art's" clipped, mannered and arch style, Comedy of Manners at its artificial, exaggerated best.

All is set in three Paris apartments -- Tony Fanning's stunning muted gray and off-white set -- with only a hanging painting to differentiate their occupants. At once, we "get the picture."

On the surface, "Art" is a talk piece about art -- or, rather, a clash of styles of art: classicism vs. cutting-edge modernism. Under its talky, glossy surface, though, the play is about the dynamics that forge and sustain friendships -- in this case, the long-standing friendships of Marc (John de Lancie), Serge (Stephen Markle) and Yvan (Steven Culp).

"Art's" story is simple and little more than a one-liner. Serge, a successful dermatologist who fancies him an art connoisseur, has spent $30,000 on a painting -- essentially a white-on-white canvas. While Serge thinks the canvas the ultimate in modernism, his brittle, acerbic best friend, Marc, a classicist in every respect, is appalled and calls it as he sees it: a white square of nothingness that symbolizes the decline and fall of Western civilization.

Marc, who fancies himself Serge's artistic mentor, sees the purchase as a sort of personal betrayal of their friendship. As the feud escalates, they bring in sweet, hapless Yvan (Culp), who gets caught in the middle.

At stake is their friendship and how they -- especially the obstinate Marc and Serge -- will repair the rift. Ultimately, as in all friendships, that calls for compromise and a couple of artistic lies.

Presented by the South Coast Repertory

Credits: Playwright: Yasmina Reza
Translation: Christopher Hampton
Director: Mark Rucker

Yvan: Steven Culp
Marc: John de Lancie
Serge: Stephen Markle

Scenic designer: Tony Fanning
Costume designer: Joyce Kim Lee
Lighting designer: Geoff Korf.

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