By Lizzy Scully
Serge: Joseph Lekarczyk
Marc: Michael Gunst
Yvon: Sam Elmore
Aptly titled, Yasmina Reza’s comedy, “Art,” revolves around an expensive modern painting that has “fine white diagonal lines” painted on a white background. However, aside from some shallow discussions about the nature of fine art, that’s where the focus on art ends. The white painting is simply a catalyst for the exploration of the interpersonal dynamics between three middle-aged men who confront a crisis in their 15-year friendship.
Art begins with the cynical and abrasive Marc (Michael Gunst), announcing to the audience that his best friend Serge (Joseph Lekarczyk), has stupidly purchased a work of art for a ridiculous sum of money. When Serge proudly shows off his painting, Marc tears into him for buying a piece of “shit.” Serge on the other hand, claims to love it. Why else would he have paid so much for it, he asks. It quickly becomes apparent that, for Serge, the painting is evidence of his true appreciation and understanding of modern art. Whether he really likes it or not, we don’t know.
One thing is for sure, neither Marc nor Yvon (Sam Elmore), the third character, likes the painting. But, always the mediator, Yvon asks Marc why he is willing to jeopardize their three-way friendship over something so banal. If it makes Serge happy, that’s all that should matter. Although he reflects on his harsh attitude, Marc is unable to stop himself from being sarcastic. His anger escalates when Yvon, who admits to him the painting is bad, continues to suck up to Serge by claiming to both love and understand Serge’s attraction to it.
As the play progresses, Marc and Serge become increasingly rude and snappy with each other, providing the audience with funny but also biting dialogue, while Yvon constantly tries to arbitrate, alternating between being ingratiating to both characters and pleading with them and the audience, “why can’t we all just get along?”
Through some well-crafted and well-executed dialogue, we watch their characters emerge. Yvon, desperately confused about his impending marriage, considers Serge and Marc a refuge, despite the fact they often disdain him entirely. Still, they listen to his diatribes about the women in his family, which seems to be all he needs in order to consider them his “best friends.” Marc’s character, the most immediately disagreeable of the three unlikable characters, consistently takes potshots at the other two, but also has reflective moments. During one, he realizes he is, in fact, insulted because Serge didn’t consider him when he purchased the painting. Then we discover that Serge, though seemingly nice at first, is actually pretentious and vacuous. He does not, in fact, esteem Marc as highly as he once did as a friend, and has come to scorn him for not being “modern.”
By the end of the production, the three-way friendship has completely collapsed into a mess of sadness, confusion and insecurity. Played expertly by their respective actors, the characters reminded me of my most dysfunctional friendships. I wondered why I had stayed in bad relationships for so long. At the same time, they also answered that question.
We have our projections of who we think our friends are; when they don’t meet our expectations, which they certainly can’t do most of the time, we are forced to confront the reality of who they are. Sometimes, as in the case of these three men, we find that we don’t actually like each other, but because of inertia we make it work.
Although not a deep play, Reza cleverly uses her characters to remind the audience that relationships and life are messy. I thought Director Charlotte Brecht Munn and the Theatre 13 actors, succeeded at communicating Reza’s message with élan. Catch their last three nights tonight, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Tickets are $13 to $15.