Beyond a Blank Stare: Reza’s Art @ QLive!

A blank canvas. Isn’t that where life begins? But an obscenely–priced, unframed “blank” canvas with a few ghostly hints of lines traced on a wash of white? Is that disturbing enough to cause a close friendship of fifteen years between three upper class big city gents to deconstruct, as in total meltdown? Yasmina Reza’s masterful, provocative play Art premiered in 1994 at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris, went on to London’s West End in 1996 with Albert Finney, after playwright Christopher Hampton translated it into Anglais, and opened on Broadway March 1, 1998, starring Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina. It had a 600 performance run and won that year’s Tony for Best Play. A big to-do over one mostly white, pricey “blank” painting….

Dylan Peck, Scott Alan Moffitt, Jerry Downey prep for "ART"

Or, is there more behind that wash of white? I think everyone who loves “art” and “theatre” should see this play every four or five years, as a refresher, a rhetorical re-set button, a reminder about the true nature of art (does it imitate life, inspire or destroy it?) and an example of an exquisitely constructed drama with three fascinating, utterly act-able characters ensnared in total relationship decrescendo. Almost perfection. Here’s what Jack Kroll of Newsweek said about the Broadway production: “It’s an actor’s dream, a nonstop cross-fire of crackling language, serious issues of life and art expressed in outbursts that sound like Don Rickles with a degree from the Sorbonne. Brilliantly translated by Christopher Hampton, (…) ‘Art’ takes that yawny old bore, the play of ideas, and jolts it to life.”

Fort Worth’s QLive! presents Art as the final expression of their debut season of film and performance art and gives it a spin at bent variance to its original concept, with mostly effective, thought-provoking results. The characters, as written, are three straight middle-aged men. QLive’s performance features three actors in their early twenties, none pretending to be older, thank goddess, all exploring gay shading in their portrayals. Jerry Downey and Scott Alan Moffitt bring skills they have honed at Theatre TCU to their savage duel under ultra-civilized veneer roles as Marc and Serge. Both actors should get the chance to revisit this play in twenty years, after life’s seasoning and art’s lessons have sculpted and refined their skills. Yet they both grasped the delicate intricacy of Reza’s highly stylized power play between two men seeking mutual approbation yet revolted by that urge. They danced their destructive tango with a natural flow and command that indicates the potential of performances to come. Versatile young professional Dylan Peck plays the unfortunate Yvan, an eternal victim in all of his relational connections. Some people seem to relish living with grim Chekhovian resignation, and Peck’s Yvan is no exception. The ‘gayest’ seeming of the three actors, Peck still gives veracity to his character’s arc of doom, a man about to marry into a business as much as into a straight woman’s bed. As Yvan watches the evening unfold and bears the brunt of Marc and Serge’s game of bloodletting, perhaps what he faces with reluctance outside the disintegrating friendship looms more promising after the evening’s events transpire. And all because Serge paid a hefty sum for a “blank” white painting, without consulting anybody.

QLive! chose to mount Art in an actual gallery space, Fort Worth’s Firehouse Gallery, the living room of a small frame house. Adam Adolfo uses the in your face intimacy of the space well, in staging the play “round-style” with audience seated on three sides. His staging reflects the intense blankness of the troublesome canvas, mounted on the far wall facing the audience. At any point in the performance, an audience member could touch any of the characters or make eye contact. But they remain remote, even during soliloquy, absorbed in their three-way drama and focused on the remote “blank” painting dominating the room. They are real enough to feel their exhalation with exertion, yet as theatrically ephemeral as faint lines on a white-painted canvas….

Is this a definitive production of Art? Maybe no. It is an interesting one, with intriguing, memorable performances and a fresh, young directorial approach that works well, in the space, at the time, for the budding talents bringing it to life. It’s a solid start for QLive! on stage. I look forward to seeing where the company takes more performance art, or where it takes them.

Additional commentary about Yasmina Reza’s play Art:

“Art may not exactly coincide with one’s own idea of men behaving naturally, but it certainly allows for a demonstration of shared skills that moves and impresses, leaving you at the curtain-call with the unusual sight of three grown-up chaps holding hands.” – John Stokes, Times Literary Supplement

“Ultimately, we realize that ‘Art’, like the form itself, is universal and all encompassing.” – Gopika Vaidya, India Times

Review of Tony-winning 1998 Broadway version with Alda, Molina and  Garber:

http://www.aislesay.com/NY-ART.html

Art played through November 26, 2011, at Fort Worth’s Firehouse Gallery.

To learn more about QLive! next performances go to http://www.QCinema.org

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