I saw a different version of ‘Art’ many years ago. I was much younger and perhaps didn’t understand art the way I do now. I thought it was a dreadfully boring play back then. I’m glad I gave Yamina Reza’s biting satire another try. The premise of the show is based on a real life event in which Reza’s good friend bought a plain white painting for an outrageous amount. This encounter inspired the play.
Serge (Diego Matamoros) buys a white painting for an exorbitant amount of money. He is thrilled with his acquisition and invites his good friend Marc (Oliver Dennis) over to take a look. Marc thinks he has lost his mind to spend that kind of money on a fundamentally blank canvas and is hurt because in the past, Serge had always come to him for advice on art. Serge contends there are subtle details and colours in the painting which can’t be viewed by anyone else. Finally, another friend Yvan (Huse Madhavji) is asked to weigh in on the matter. He is more concerned with sorting out the drama of his upcoming wedding but goes between the two men, trying to mediate. When he sees the painting, he ends up bursting into laughter which Serge heartily joins in on.
The play examines art, how subjective it all is and what resonates for one person is going to flatline for someone else. It’s also about friendship in all its messy complexities. The play doesn’t delve into any other matters so for 90 minutes we get to toss around the idea of what art really means.
Philip Akin direction is sharp. The play moves along well with tight lighting and sound cues. The sparse set, created by Gillian Gallow has just a few sleek furniture pieces and an illuminated area on the way where various paintings are hung to differentiate the different tastes of the men. The walls are white which further’ highlights the very white painting.
Matamoros and Dennis spar off each other well. I particularly liked the old man scrap although it was clunky and missed the mark at the beginning but once they got into it, very funny. They definitely have a comfort and chemistry with one another that seems like second nature. Madhavji has charm, especially when he is laughing uproariously at certain absurdities but he seemed to play the role mostly in one stage, with a pressurized, explosive speech and not much variation. I longed for the character to be more eccentric as it is written and Madhavji didn’t quite nail it.
Opening night definitely had some fans in the audience. They was hearty laughing from the get go. It took me longer to warm up to the script but in the end I quite enjoyed it.
Cover: Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis, and Huse Madhavji. Photo: Dahlia Katz