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ART (article first published : 2005-08-20)

The simple art of buying a painting rocks the long-term relationship of three men and threatens to destroy it completely.

However, this is no ordinary painting. It cost 200,000 francs and it’s white. Pure white. Although there are diagonal lines of a different intensity of white running across it, as far as Marc is concerned, it’s “a piece of shit”. What makes it even more unacceptable is that his friend Serge - who he holds dear as someone whose opinions he has helped to shape – considers his purchase a major achievement. Beaming with pride, Serge waxes lyrical about features Marc cannot relate to or understand and thus he feels a sense of betrayal.

The other member of the trio is Yvan, a neurotic husband-to-be who battles to keep the peace between the two but more often than not exacerbates the situation. Not exactly renowned for his assertiveness, he is caught up in the maelstrom of wedding preparations with all the internal politics and nightmare ramifications of potentially explosive decisions such as whether to include certain members of the family on the invitations.

This is the structure of Art, a brilliantly-written play by Yasmina Reza currently running at Kwasuka Theatre. Originally in French and set in France, it was translated just as effectively into English by Christopher Hampton who was also responsible for Dangerous Liaisons, a play which was performed successfully at Kwasuka Theatre last year. The play of dialogue with its counter-tensions and humorous content all make for a hugely enjoyable evening. The famous olive scene is hilarious!

In his direction, Greg King does good justice to the script and draws excellent performances from Michael Gritten, Darren King and Themi Venturas. Straight from his successful appearance in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Themi Venturas reminds us that he is just as capable in straight drama as the volatile Marc who finds himself unsettled by his friend’s purchase. Elegantly dressed, as always, Darren King brings stature and control to the role of Serge who eventually comes up with an innovative solution to rekindle the friendship. Michael Gritten is an absolute delight as Yvan and his impassioned outburst about the wedding invitations is masterful.

The script is so designed that the characters’ thoughts are portrayed alongside the action as they start to examine their own foibles and emotions. It’s like a metaphorical romp on the beach that is suddenly transported into shark-infested waters. The dialogue is pithy and clear-cut and the humour is sophisticated and clever. There is much reference to “art-speak”, the kind of phrases that visual artists use but which those who would like to know more about the discipline find incomprehensible. Yasmina Reza grew up in Paris, surrounded by artists, musicians, actors and directors so she knows how to use the right “language”.

Greg King’s set with its lofty white flats also has to accommodate Boston Marriage (see below) and while the other production uses period furniture, Art has very contemporary angular chairs. This makes for a wonderful picture later in the play when all three characters flop onto them in an act of collapse.

I saw Art in London on the West End about ten years ago and this Kwasuka production could hold its own alongside it. In fact, the play works better at Kwasuka because of the theatre’s intimacy. You feel more drawn into the arguments and cross-tensions.

Art alternates with Boston Marriage, also running at Kwasuka Theatre, on Wednesday and Friday at 20h00, Saturday at 15h00 and Sunday at 18h00. The show runs until September 11. Booking is at Computicket.

Boston Marriage is just as fine a production – so Kwasuka is definitely the theatre to head for right now! - Caroline Smart




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