ART questions relations between friends

A dynamite recent production of Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed play

By Byron Toben

Yasmina Reza, the Parisian playwright of the 1994 hit play ART has made quite a name for herself. This play alone has been translated into 30 languages. It has won a Tony, plus an Olivier and a Molière (the English and French equivalents).

Ms. Reza has also churned out seven other plays, eight novels and three screenplays.

Director Dean Patrick Fleming points out in the printed program to a dynamite recent production out in Hudson that the piece, while questioning what constitutes a work of art goes beyond that to examine human relationships, here that of a long standing friendship between three men.

This play… has been translated into 30 languages. It has won a Tony, plus an Olivier and a Molière…

They are dermatologist/art collector Serge (Jimmy Blais), aeronautical engineer Marc (Marcel Jeannin) and wishy-washy Yvan (Daniel Brochu). This trio is well known to Montreal theatregoers as they have performed in many successful productions, both locally and nationally.

The plot is triggered when Serge shows his latest acquisition to Marc, who is dumbfounded as it is just a giant white canvas. His credulity is strained when the price of 100,000 Euros is revealed.

When Marc relates this to Yvan, the latter agrees to view it himself, and while not enthusiastic over the piece, feels that if Serge likes it and it makes him happy, that is the more important point. Their differing views are compounded by Yvan’s pending marriage after years of trying to find a willing bride as he is awkward and shy.

‘The plot is triggered when Serge shows his latest acquisition to Marc, who is dumbfounded as it is just a giant white canvas.’

A fight between the prospective in-laws creates an obstacle to which both Marc and Serge advise him to cancel the wedding.

Great ensemble acting, I thought.

In 1963, I saw an Ad Reinhardt painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Black on Black. This seems the closest to the one coloured white on white in this play. Other monochromatic paintings have discernible objects within them. Witness Picasso’s blue period.

Even Mark Rothko’s layered paintings, as depicted in the play Red at the Segal Centre in 2012 have gradations of transitions. His Orange, Red, Yellow sold for over 86 million dollars in 2012. Here is a video about his art:

Life always outruns fiction. ART, in which it seemed shocking that an all white canvas might fetch 100,000 Euros, seems like a bargain compared to Damien Hirst’s shark in a tank of formaldehyde, which was resold by Charles Saatchi, who had commissioned it for a reputed 12 million dollars. (I will sell a goldfish in formaldehyde to any readers willing to pay only $1200)

Is Art, like Beauty, only in the eye of the beholder?

Ms Reza pin pricks middle class hypocrisy and indeed, in a post show chat, Mr Jeannin likened the script to Molière, which she, as an actor, has performed.

ART was translated into English, as were several other of Ms Reza’s plays, by another famous playwright, Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses).

ART ran at Hudson Village Theatre from August 8 to 19.

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Feature image: Actors Jimmy Blais, Daniel Brochu and Marcel Jeannin – Michael Green

Read also: Impressions of expressionist art at Duc de Lorraine

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.

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