|(left to right) Joe Dempsey, Randall Newsome and ensemble member Ian Barford in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Art, by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by ensemble member Rick Snyder. Photo by Michael Brosilow.|
Art gets underway when one of three friends purchases a very expensive painting - a white canvas. To his chagrin neither of his two friends “get it” in the way he does. While one friend, Marc, is outraged at the acquisition and forthright about his opinion, the other, Yvan, agrees to an extent, but hides his true feelings when confronted by Serge, the buyer. Serge, who is absolutely taken with the painting’s beauty, cannot understand why his friends don’t see it through his eyes.
Art’s playwright, Yasmina Reza, does a fantastic job of exploring the internal character of each of the three men as well as disclosing their external framework in a way that unfolds like clues would slowly uncover a mystery in a detective novel. A subtle set change hints to different aspects in each of the characters. For instance, the play is set in three very similar apartments with the only notable difference being a different painting of which would help in identifying the personality of its resident.
Each character is well defined with nuances of individualistic traits being revealed at a perfect pace throughout the highly entertaining interaction between the three. There are several points during the play where each of the men are allowed to step aside from a scene and deliver a monologue directly to the audience, which makes known their specific point of view, adding to the play’s entire flow.
Art is an intelligent comedy that masterfully uses clever dialogue intertwined with situational humor, but it is the characters themselves that, at times can be so identifiable whereas at other moments so preposterous, so as to make this show so funny. Ian Barford (Marc), Randall Newsome (Serge) and Joe Dempsey (Yvan) are each in their own right outstanding, though the three together are simply a true pleasure to watch perform.
If there is any doubt that 80 plus minutes of three friends discussing a blank canvas can be completely compelling and enjoyable, Steppenwolf’s production of Art establishes it can be just that. Skillfully directed by ensemble member Rick Snyder, Art is a comedy that not only delves into the sculpted layers of friendship but also the varying degrees of what can bring happiness to someone, whether it makes sense to others or not.
Art is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through June 7th. For more information visit www.steppenwolf.org.