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Theater Review: "Art"


November 9, 2000

By Melinda Schupmann

There is always a fear, having seen stylish productions of a popular show, that its subsequent imitators will fall short of the mark. Following its New York and Los Angeles successes, South Coast Repertory's mounting of Yasmina Reza's Art certainly measures up to its predecessors. Under Mark Rucker's deft touch, the three principals in the show play well off each other and maintain the vitality so necessary for Reza's humorous but challenging banter.

Serge (Stephen Markle) has bought a painting--a large white canvas with white diagonal lines-- for an exorbitant amount of money. He gleefully shows it to his friend and mentor, Marc (John de Lancie), expecting his admiration and approval. Instead, Marc mocks his purchase, causing Serge to try to get an ally in a third friend, Yvan (Steven Culp.) Yvan is the mediator, an affable fellow who likes to keep things on an even keel. The subsequent dialogue among the friends and the resolution of their conflicts keeps the audience intrigued and amused.

The trio are excellent. John de Lancie really steals the show. Every nuance, every raised eyebrow, every petulant shrug are all brilliantly done, and he produces the finely drawn character who is certainly most memorable. Markle and Culp are also strong, foils for each other, and equal to the task of keeping up with de Lancie.

Reza has written a complex study of people and their interdependencies. The piece of art is simply the catylyst for our understanding of how we are defined by how we interact with each other. While she explores the nature of friendship, she also has the knack of keeping you intellectually stimulated.

In a sublime scene in the second act, Culp has a long, frenzied monologue in which his frustration with his pending wedding and in-laws comes to a boil, but it is also the reactions of his friends Marc and Serge that define the scene and give it texture. Rucker also creates a wonderful final scene with olives that is notable.

Geoff Korf's lighting and Tony Fanning's set are stylish and create the perfect drawing-room atmosphere for the repartee. Though Reza's continental rhythms are sometimes at odds with our more direct dialogue, the nimble delivery of the lines makes it all work.

"Art" South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 708-5555. Tues-Fri. at 8, Sat. at 2:30 & 8; Sun. at 2:30 & 7:30. $18-49. Closes November 19.

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