Yasmina Reza’ s 1994 play Art has become known and admired world-wide. But it had never been presented before now by Pittsburgh Public Theater. As directed by Ted Pappas and played expertly, the script’s wit and fascination come across with vitality and style.
Pappas has found ways to create visual and verbal analogies to the art around which the play evolves. An abstract painting. He zips in and out of fragmented scenes, when the characters take only a few seconds to ruminate. This keeps the pace swift. Impressions of what’s happening then seem believably spontaneous. They also equal the characters’ uncontrolled, unpremeditated communications which prompt unforeseen reactions. Even as the fundamental three letter title of the play, Anne Mundell’s set echoes the seeming simplicity of the painting. It baldly frames the characters rather than diverting your attention to marginal details. Meanwhile Pappas and his cast make 90 minutes race ahead, as if nearly out of control, even as the men in the play lose control. And yet the painting’s elemental nature could suggest the artist’s unflinching control.
If you don’t know the play already, you need to know that it thrives on conversation. In Art long-time friends Marc and Serge are articulate, cultivated men. Serge reveals new- found delight in the costly painting. Marc calls the work crap. Not that word really. A different word is used, as are many other similar profanities when these men speak in anger. They clash not only about their differences of perception but also about their relationships…which start to unravel. They extrapolate about each other’s values and personalities, choosing their words not at all carefully. Their less intellectual friend Yvan is drawn into this semantic whirlpool against his will. Soon everything all three say and do spirals out of control.
In Thursday’s performance anger and emotion took hold more often that potentially argumentative reason, and after a while, it sounded too much like one-dimensional shouting, even if believable. Harry Bouvy stands out most as Yvan. In fact, you may remember another impressive performance by him. He had a leading role in The Clockmaker at City Theatre in February, likewise as a vulnerable innocent, the clockmaker himself. As for the rest of the cast, Darren Elliker always makes Serge genuine including showing his pride and joy in his acquisition and as Marc, Rob Breckenridge plays the man’s supercilious nature especially well.
I suppose you could ask if there is deep meaning and significant symbolism in the play. Given that the painting can be seen and interpreted from various angles, I’m certain that, if you want to ponder it, you can come up with something potentially profound. I haven’t yet. But I don’t feel that it’s necessary. With or without such analysis, it remains good, intelligent, lively theatre.
Art continues through June 27th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, on Penn Avenue, downtown. 412-316-1600 www.ppt.org