Tuesday, 23 January 2001

Art, MTC, Jan 23, 2001

 by Yasmina Reza Melbourne Theatre Melbourne Theatre Company
at Playhouse, Jan 23 until 24 February, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Don't waste any time. Book your ticket to Art right now - then come back and read this.

Got them? Good. What you are in for is a smart, funny, skilfully written, acted and directed play about friendship and modern art. Yes, it's about the impact of a piece of contemporary painting on the relationships between three Frenchmen.

The translation of Yasmina Reza's ironic and witty French script by Christopher Hampton captures a local tone.

Roger Hodgman keeps the action uncluttered on Shaun Gurton's monastic design. Hodgman cast this perfectly so he can allow his actors their heads. The three look delighted and relaxed on  stage so we run with them.

William McInnes plays Serge, the smug and superior doctor and contemporary cultural elitist who spends 200,000 francs on a canvas by a famous artist. It is the ultimate in controversial 60s Minimalist painting being simply white on white.

As his older friend and ex-mentor, Marc, John Wood is a colourful and culturally conservative provocateur. He is pompous, opinionated, elitist and critical about Serge's painting and even his sanity.

Enter Yvan, played with consummate comic timing by Kim Gyngell. Yvan is tepid, accommodating, less accomplished and educated than the others. His major concerns are with his wedding invitations and the stationery he sells. He is willing to pretend to like the painting to keep the peace.

Writer Yasmina Reza cleverly weaves a sticky web of complex  and hilarious argument, confusion and criticism around these men. Their commonalities are called into question. The values they thought were common are no longer to be presumed. They spar, and spit and scream until it seems that this painting has driven a wedge between them.

The  downward flying juggernaut that is their declining love is fuelled by their need for control, the shifting balance of power between them, their loss of faith, their misunderstanding  and their careless attacks and manipulations of each other.

Reza constantly shifts their alliances and status, sending each to Coventry in turn. Their friendship seems hopeless.

It is extraordinary that she can make a play about people talking about art. It challenges critical theory, deconstruction, satirises the art aficionado and the critic. It demonstrates how the tiniest shift in values or taste can effect a friendships. We rely on common values in relationships. Any variation from our expectations can be fatal to friendship.

By Kate Herbert

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