Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: (Montreal) ART

l-r Donald Rees, Nir Guzinski, Sean Curley (Photo credit: David Reudelhuber)

Younger take on ART misses the white canvas mark 
Brave New Productions opens 10th year with Reza play
Sarah Deshaies

Marc, Serge and Yvan are three men whose friendship has lasted 15 years. But as the night unfolds, it looks like it's all going to fall apart right in front of you.

The reason for this is that Serge has purchased a deliriously expensive piece of modern art - a huge white canvas, with faint traces of lines - purchased for a whopping 200,000 francs. Serge believes it's a modern masterpiece, but when he first shows it to Marc, the latter cannot cover up his smug disapproval of what is essentially a chalk-white canvas, or, a “piece of shit.”

this play shows what a rocky boat friendship can be

Brave New Productions is staging ART as part of its 10th anniversary season; part of the focus this year is on friendship and creativity. And this play shows what a rocky boat friendship can be. 
Following Marc’s insult, Serge (Brave New Productions co-founder Donald Rees) calls him uncouth, unwilling to learn about the niceties of culture and art. Marc (Nir Guzinski) is shaken that Serge would even consider buying the canvas. 

Each one seeks to affirm himself by sharing the story with Yvan, the anxious friend in the middle. Yvan (Sean Curley) agrees with Serge that Marc is being a lout; Yvan agrees with Marc that Serge has lost his mind.

Curley does a comical take on poor Yvan, who is navigating the family warzone leading up to the wedding (his nagging mother routine is campy and fun, and the audience gets it). Rees stretches his words and gestures to great effect, teasing out Serge’s irritation and anger as only an art- and status-obsessed man can. Guzinski scowls and harrumphs cynically, but he does not always keep pace; Marc’s reactions feel a step behind. 

French playwright Yasmina Reza's play throws into question the value we place on art, as well as on friendship. The French writer’s trademark biting wit and acerbic voice parodies the lives of the modern, well-to-do Yuppie... this is really “first-world problems” before the term was ever coined. 

One of her best known plays (the other is the recently filmed God of Carnage), ART is well-lauded, picking up Tonys, the Molière Award and other prizes since it debuted in 1994 in Paris.

While the writing is naturally a forte here, a problem lies within the casting. All three performers are young men who’ve performed several times before with Brave New Productions - but that’s precisely it. They’re young men. See the cast of the Tony-winning New York City run of ART: the trio consisted of Alfred Molina as Yvan, Alan Alda as Marc and Canadian Victor Garber as Serge. I feel that the roles of ART would fit better on older performers.

ART does not fail because of this casting, but it’s not helped by it. 

The background of our modern drama, however, fits nicely. Tim Boucher designed the set, an Ikea-like space that nevertheless cleverly masquerades as a series of expensive, sleek living rooms in Paris. Isabelle Tremblay’s lighting is elegant, both spare and focused when it needs to be.

ART is a cutting play that invites you to project your own insecurities about friends, status and money onto a blank canvas; in this version, we don't get the strongest interpretation of their character's own turmoil. 

Runs 90 minutes without intermission.

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