Entries in Yasmina Reza (1)



Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Art: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Set against a backdrop of what might be a monumental Piet Mondrian painting and primary colors…blue, red and yellow…Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s season opening production Art resonates with modern abstraction in its design and themes. Even the pale Barcelona chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe flank the stark, white leather sofa front and center on the Cabot Theatre Stage. And speak to a sophistication that echoes the ideas on contemporary art and friendship French playwright Yasmina Reza’s award winning script addresses.

First produced in Paris during the mid 1990’s, Reza’s Art places three old friends, Marc, (Brian Mani), Serge (C. Michael Wright), and Ivan (Tom Klubertanz), in one of their classically fashionable apartments. Serge, a well to do dermatologist, recently purchased a “white” painting for an absurd amount of money, which infuriates his best friend Marc. However, the cultural renegade Ivan places himself between the two warring friends and the resulting backlash from Serge making such an expensive decision without consulting Marc.

While the three friends argue over the artist's importance, an 'Andrios' painting, even to what color the canvas might be, for there are numerous shades of white, they all struggle with what ties, experiences and feelings, bind them together. Because very similar to the diagonal lines dividing the white background in the Andrios painting, the three friends, like the three musketeers, are divided by what emotions the painting unleashes in each of them. Which can be equally absurd and conflicting.

Director Tyler Merchant adds a strident, hyper-realistic quality to the production, a play without any intermission, perhaps to generate more tension between the three men on the set. So do the flashing lights designed by Jason Fassl which gently stobe between the changing action against Scenic Designer Keith Pitt’s Mondrian inspired back wall. Theatrical techniques reinforcing how the serenity in these three men’s lives was definitively disturbed by the painting and then consequently each other.

Mani and Wright demonstrate their astute acting abilities by letting the audience visibly wrestle with these character's emotions. Perhaps the French might be more philosophical and less rigorously argumentative in regard to these dilemmas while being equally as passionate. Klubertanz acutely develops the play's humor with a genuine neurosis, his Ivan less debonair than Marc and Serge. Ivan has his own problems to contend with, an upcoming wedding, correct wording on invitations, and a life working with mundane stationery. His frustration daringly expressed in an exhilarating tirade about the minute details that complicate a wedding.

Throughout this almost two-hour play, art and friendship can be observed as the very idea of abstract expressionism. Where what a person feels can be more significant than what one sees, especially in a painting. The emotions are more critical to acceptance than the colors or lines drawn on the canvas, and how one discovers the words to open up those ambiguous sentiments to another person when describing art or a friendship. Whether the painting is indeed white-white, white shit as Marc believes, or that indefinable whiter shade of pale, the color matters less than what Marc, Serge and Ivan “sense” about the painting. Which comes to the forefront at the script’s conclusion when they process what actually binds the three of them together as human beings. 

The final scene in Reza’s play closes by questioning what “art,” a painting, evokes in the collective soul, what that is worth, culturally and moentarily, and then how this pales in comparison to the friendships these men have forged over 15 years. Because then the value of art rest in how the audience and these three men understand their humanity more fully. Perhaps another French philosopher and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said this more succinctly when he wrote, “Words are the source of misunderstanding…Eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

This August, Milwaukee audiences should indeed look keenly, observe with open eyes and heart MCT’s intriguing production of Art.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Art at the Broadway Theatre Center in the Cabot Theatre through August 25. Several special events are planned, so for information or tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre link to the left.    by Peggy Sue Dunigan