Anna St. Clair, Drama Editor
The central conflict of Art is whether or not Serge has lost his mind at the purchase of a $200,000 painting. The painting, which Serge lauds as “incredibly modern,” is a canvas painted white—and that’s it. His friend Marc is scandalized by the extravagant purchase and it causes a rupture in the pair’s friendship. Art explores how friendships begin and end, while engaging with and critiquing modern art, freed from the judgmental walls of the gallery.
Serge is a wealthy dermatologist who can afford to purchase art for such prices. One wonders if Marc would be so horrified by the painting if Serge payed $20 for instance. The play wrestles with whether Serge, really finds pleasure in the Antrios, or if the painting is a representation of his education, wealth, and intellectual pursuits. But where Serge seems absurd, and hostile to Marc, Marc’s obsession with Serge’s painting is equally baffling.
In many ways Art is a satire on upper class intellectuals. Where Serge and Marc can spar on the principles of art, their selfishness, lack of empathy, and abject loneliness makes them fools on the subject of relationships.
A three-person show directed by Ben Mayer-Goodman and Guillaume Doussin, Art is compact and explosive, with a dry sense of humour. While the original showing in Paris, as well as the subsequent English translation, which played on Broadway, had men in all three roles, here the directors make the correct choice to cast Marc as a woman. For a play that can already feel elitist and inaccessible, casting Marc as a woman brings some diversity to the cast and makes a student audience feel less distant from the action.
The cast delivers strong performances all around. Steven Finley plays Serge with pretensions and a casual, and cruel disregard for the feelings of others. Sara Harvey plays Marc as insecure, anxious, and desperate. She’s desperate for finding her old friend in Serge’s crass outer shell.
Marc and Serge’s friend Yvan, perhaps the most sympathetic character in Art, referees the conflict between the two friends. Actor Douglas Clark gives Yvan an anxious timidity and indecisiveness that make the character another disputed possession in Marc and Serge’s battles. Yet unlike Marc and Serge, he does not allow his desire to be right ruin his relationships. And yet he’s spineless and lacking convictions, as both Marc, Serge and himself will profess him to be an “amoeba.” Clark shows off his acting chops in a tour-de-force manic rant. As Marc and Serge are waiting for the late Yvan to show up so they can go to the movies, Yvan at last bursts in and rants about the ongoing drama between his mother, stepmother, and his fiancée.
Players’ Theatre typically puts on black box plays, with minimal set design. However in a play titled Art, we expect some art. Set designer Sonora Grimsted designed sets that spoke to the characters inner lives. In Serge’s apartment, the background is “incredibly modern” with swirls of granite and white paintings decorating his apartment. Marc on the other hand, has a classical painting of a castle, which Serge insultingly refers to as “that Flemish thing” Finally Yvan’s apartment is decorated with a 1960s inspired backdrop and a motel painting of a bowl of fruit. The painting begins crooked, and Marc will straighten it early on, representing a struggled attempt to bring order to the three friends toxic relationship.
Art derives its energy from constant shouting matches, which can sometimes make the play feel exhausting. Yet with the compelling performances, as well a run time of around an hour and twenty minutes it is never in danger of being interminable.
Art will be playing at Players’ Theatre, located in the SSMU building on Saturday February 18th and February 22nd to 24th at 8pm.