Thursday, October 6, 2016

Yasmina Reza’s “ART” in good hands at Intrepid Theatre.

No one really knows just how long it took Antrios, the artist in Yasmina Reza’s 1998 Tony Award winning play, to paint his 5x4 white painting on white canvases that Serge (Jason Heil) now owns. He paid $2000,000 for it and is over the moon happy with his purchase.

What we do know is that it took 85 minutes over the course of a few days and his 15 -year friendship with Marc (Daren Scott) and Yvan (Jacob Bruce) to disintegrate into war of words, a wrestling match of sorts (Brian Byrnes flight director) and a possible irreversible split. But then, in a turnabout as unexpected as the play’s premise, it took few olives (not pitted) and a blue felt-tipped pen to restore it. 

Jason Heil, Jacob Bruce and Daren Scott
Intrepid Theatre Company now in its seventh year and new digs, (Horton Grand Theatre) is mounting Yasmina Reza’s play “Art” and it's in good hands there. It plays through Oct. 6th 

“Art” took the theatre world by storm when it premiered in Paris in 1994. Since then it went on to become an international success playing in 20 languages, translated from its original French, includes Danish and Hebrew. Having seen three other productions of “Art” over the years, the first time with the original cast, I’m still wondering what attracts me to it.

I couldn’t help but hear the words of Sondheim in my brain playing over and over again as I thought of the message in Reza’s “ART”: Bit by bit, putting it together… Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art… Every moment makes a contribution… Every little detail plays a part…Having just a vision’s no solution…Everything depends on execution…Putting it together (That’s what counts.”)

Putting it together whether a friendship or a work of art… ‘takes lots of conversation and…everything depends on execution…the art of making art is putting it together piece by piece.” You might have guessed by now that Reza’s “Art” screams a work of art but really talks to us about the art of concessions.

Slowly, we in the audience are taken on a long, oft times provoking journey on the art of building a friendship using Serge’s white on white canvas that cost $2000,000 to draw us and his friends into a contentious web of the art of keeping good friends.

Intrepid’s artistic director Christy Yael-Cox, in announcing her theatre’s seventh season of plays, stresses the word ‘tolerance’ in describing her attraction to Reza’s play and those to follow.  She directs this piece with precision timing zeroing in like a laser on her three principals.  

If you look at the makeup of Reza’s three men, Yvan, Serge and Marc, you might have noticed that they are as different from each other as night is from day. But, bit -by -bit and piece- by -piece friends fall into line and friendships gel for a number of reasons.

Bruce, Heil and Scott
When we meet these three men their friendship is already on solid ground or so it seems. We don’t know their history nor do we know what brought them together. Over the years they seemed to have managed some civility and even succeeded at keeping the friendship alive. They even seem to enjoy the sparring and jabbing.

Marc is an aeronautical engineer and Serge is a dermatologist and divorced, Yvan, just left textiles and is now a sales agent for a wholesale stationary business. Of the three Marc and Yvan carry their emotions on their sleeves. At the moment Yvan is an off the wall train wreck because in two weeks he’s getting married and family mishagas is driving him nuts.

Marc is no better off as he rants to Yvan about Serge’s recent buy. When he goes to Yvan’s apartment (simply designed by Michael McKeon with support from Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting) to fill him in on Serge’s latest purchase, he finds Yvan frantically looking for the top of his felt pen. Why the pen is so important comes to the surface toward the end of the play. No spoilers here.

Yvan: “These white lines. If the background’s white, how can you see the lines?” Marc: “You just can. Because I suppose the lines are slightly grey or vice versa…and so it goes. How much would Yvon pay for a painting Marc barks? Yvan: “Jack Shit!”

What Marc doesn’t realize is that Yvan just can’t seem to get too emotionally involved with a painting especially when his world is spinning out of control. And he reasons to Marc that it doesn’t bother him that Serge has spent this amount on a painting ‘if it makes him happy… he can afford it’.  What Yvan needs now is compassion from his friends not a philosophical discussion on modern vs. traditional art.

The battle of the words gets out of control more than halfway through the production when Marc accuses Serge of being a snob and not respecting their friendship, modern art and yadda, yadda yadda! But it’s not so much the words that are important in this production, as is the body language.

Heil, Bruce and Scott
It doesn’t take much for Scott’s face to curl up into a knot or throw a look out to the audience or raise an eyebrow or purse his lips, bring his fingers to his mouth and shake his head. He has one of those supple faces that can contort any-which way and he uses every one of those expressions to let us know exactly what he is thinking. Scott is a genius at that. No surprises here.

He’s a master at it even when he looks right out at us and brings us up to date. Marc: “My friend Serge has bought a painting…Serge is one of my oldest friends…He’s done very well for himself…He’s really into art.”

Serge is more the down to earth, steady as she goes… “He doesn’t like the painting. Fine…But there’s no warmth in the way he reacted. No attempt. No warmth when he dismissed it without a thought. Just that vile pretentious laugh. A real know it all laugh. I hated that laugh.”

Heil, who carries himself with confidence, succeeds in bringing the conversation directly to the fore. He’s serious without being too in your space but willing to defend his decision in the face of losing his best friend Marc, perhaps. Heil, another of San Diego’s finest is a perfect choice for Serge. He also looks best in Jeanne Reith’s outfits.

Of the three Heil’s Serge is the most complicated to read and he manages a calm (except for one really big showdown) while aggravating Marc. But after the dust settles, it’s Serge that brings out the true meaning of friendship…  

Now if you want to see meltdowns, Jacob Bruce’s Yvan is one to watch. With family pulling him in every direction, he just goes of the beaten track, poor guy. He can’t seem to get away from himself and his breakdown startles the others, but doesn’t stop them. They even chide him for being late to go out for a casual dinner. He goes completely off the tracks.

We’re not too surprised because Bruce’s Yvan is in constant emotional turmoil that gives his breakdown validity. He’s counting on his friends to hear him out and they don’t disappoint. Perhaps Yvan is more in touch with his own frailties and shortcomings than the other two who ignore them and march to their own artistic beat.

Do opposites really attract? Can friends still be friends without admiring and agreeing all the the time? Is honesty the best policy? Is it OK if we hurt feelings? Talk among yourselves.   

The more I see the play, the more I am attracted to it. It gives me a reality check to better understand the lasting friendships I have that I wouldn’t trade in for any amount of money. As far as the art I have hanging in my house…well I’ve been called out for that many times. I happen to like poster art. Sue me!

Reza’s “God Of Carnage” the other side of her dramatic arc, will be here in San Diego soon. New Village Arts will be in charge of that one.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 6th
Organization: Intrepid Theatre Co.
Phone: 888-71-tickets
Production Type: Tragi/Comedy
Where: 444 Fourth Ave., downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: $38.00-$54 Grand Horton Theatre  
Venue: Grand Horton Theatre  

Photo: Intrepid Theatre

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