I’m sure everyone has heard the expression: “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.” Rest assured: a visit to Burning Coal Theatre Company’s Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, will remedy that — you will know plenty about Yasmina Reza’s Art, and you will definitely like it.
French dramatist Yasmina Reza’s Art, which premiered in Paris in 1994, is a 90-or-so minute, high-speed ride of laughter, laced with invitations to contemplate the nature of art, the nature of friendship, and the effects that the two can have on each other. The characters in this play are three long-time friends and a four-foot by five-foot white-on-white painting.
Marc has dropped in on his friend Serge to see the piece of modern art on which Serge has just spent 200,000 francs. Marc is outraged (and somewhat amused) that Serge has “wasted” so much money on this “piece of white shit.” Serge is offended.
Marc drops in on their fellow friend Ivan, and the two discuss the situation. Ivan agrees to visit Serge to see for himself.
Who would expect that the purchase of a painting could ever result in a serious threat to the trio’s friendship?
In addition to the interaction between the three characters, we are treated to numerous breaks in the Fourth Wall as each character addresses the audience in soliloquy.
Side Note: Serge is recently divorced; Marc has girlfriend with some holistic, New Age ideas; and Ivan has an upcoming wedding that is seriously complicating his life.
Side-splitting comedy ensues. (But don’t be surprised if you find yourself “affected” by “art.”
To the credit of all three actors and director Ken Hinton, the pace never lets up. One hilarious sequence ends; and before you can even catch your breath, another is already in progress. There will be a point at which you will detect that there has been a “descent into hell”; but you will have laughed all the way, and you will never doubt that you will be laughing your way back. The comic timing is impeccable throughout.
It would be hard to imagine better casting and better chemistry.
Preston Campbell deftly communicates Serge’s “controlled avant-garde” and somewhat elitist attitudes toward art. With an equal amount of deftness, Byron Jennings II shows Marc’s grounded-in-reality approach. And the two characters each seem almost to be in competition over who can show more disdain and condescension toward the other.
In his attempt to pacify his friends and defuse the situation, Juan Isler’s Ivan manages to stir them up further against each other and at himself. Isler’s comic timing and incredible sight gags take the production to the next level, and Campbell’s and Jennings’ ability to keep their characters “on track” bolsters his efforts.
Friday night’s audience spontaneously applauded an extended sequence in which Ivan re-enacted a telephone conversation with his mother, then a discussion with his fiancée, and then another telephone call while Serge and Marc looked on.
Technical Choices Worth Noting:
Scenic designer Joel Soren’s choice to color the set so colorfully and “artistically” (for a play about a white-on-white painting) — yes! Yes! and YES!
Costume designer Elena Mulligan’s choices of clothing for the three — spot-on!
Sound designer Juan Isler’s choice of music to accompany scene changes — nice!
Lighting designer Matthew Adelson’s cross-fades when a character “stepped out of the action” to speak to the audience — well done!
From the Department of Picky-Picky (This Is Hardly Worth Mentioning, But …):
There is a table stage right (way stage right); characters occasionally cross down by passing to the right of it. The first time, I found myself distracted, because making this pass brought the character ever-so-slightly out of the lighting. The second time, (and I don’t know why, but:) I found myself worried that the actor might accidentally step off the platform, possibly incurring injury. My suggestion: place the table about six inches further to the left.
“Art is one of the most successful comedies ever.”
“Art is the winner of an Olivier, a Tony®, a Molière and every other major world theatre award.”
“Art is a masterpiece.”
Yasmina Reza’s ART (In Person and Virtual at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, 6, and 10-13), translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by Ken Hinton, and starring Juan Isler as Yvan, Byron Jennings II as Marc, and Preston Campbell as Serge (Burning Coal Theatre Company in Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh). VIDEOS: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3qVv6iWGS3yQtVoFH5_XNQ. 2021-22 MAINSTAGE SEASON: https://burningcoal.org/mainstage/. THE PRESENTER: https://burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/burningcoaltheatrecompany, https://www.instagram.com/burningcoaltc/, https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3qVv6iWGS3yQtVoFH5_XNQ. PODCASTS: https://burningcoal.podbean.com/. THE SHOW: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780571190140/art, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/art-1693, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0137065/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_(play). THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/. THE PLAYWRIGHT: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Yasmina-Reza, http://www.iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/1807, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/yasmina-reza-9233, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0722078/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasmina_Reza. THE VENUE: https://burningcoal.org/plan-your-visit/ and https://burningcoal.org/history-of-the-murphey-school/. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: https://burningcoal.org/plan-your-visit/. COVID PRECAUTIONS: https://burningcoal.org/covid-precautions/. TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel, and $20 seniors 65+), except $15 Thursday. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-834-4001 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: Burning Coal Theatre Company. Pamela Vesper’s Review.
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.