Open: 01/23/09- Close: 01/25/09
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin
How do we judge Art? What IS Art for that matter? And how do we account for, and come to terms with, our differing views of it? These are the immediate questions raised by Yasmina Reza's play Art. Just below the surface, however, is the idea that life itself is a work of art, and very often we judge it, and the people around us, with the scrutiny and bias that art critics might.
A comedy, Art tells the story of three friends -- Marc (Steven Nelson), Serge (Michael Weems), and Yvan (Blake Bradford) -- whose relationship is thrown into chaos when Serge purchases, for $200,000 francs, a very famous artist's painting composed of white paint on a white canvas. The three friends each represent a different critical archetype: Serge considers himself an expert on the subject of modern art and prides himself on his ability to make out the subtle red tones in the white paint. Marc sees himself as the only one who will say that the Emperor has no clothes, as it were. He has no problem telling his friend that his purchase is "a stupid piece of shit." Yvan can't seem to form an opinion of his own, and changes his views depending on which friend he's with, not wanting to make waves. As the stakes escalate we find that each judges the others in the same way they judge the painting, almost as if they were each works of art that please or not depending on the viewer's personal tastes.
Design elements play an important, if often under-appreciated, hand in the theatrical experience. This production of Art was deeply hindered by the almost non-existent design. In fact, there were no designers even listed in the program. The choice of the Beckmann Theatre did not do the production any favors – it has an inherently bohemian quality that instantly made a play meant to take place (primarily) in the apartment of an art collector who could easily afford a $200,000 painting confusing and unbelievable. The theater was lit with eight clip lights that gave only three options for the lighting design: on, off, or dim. Christine Vinh Weems's direction was crisp and clear, and the pace was kept at a high, perfect tempo.
Both Stephen Nelson and Michael Weems gave frustrating performances. Though Mr. Weems's stoicism played into the removed nature of his character, Mr. Nelson seemed as if he was always just about to forget his line and had a habit of looking to the heavens and raising his hands on almost every line. The saving grace, and true star of the evening, was Blake Bradford, who brought great naturalism, pathos, and humor to his role, and lit up the stage whenever he appeared. But hey, how can anyone truly judge Art?
Beckmann Theater : 314 West 54th Street