ART theatre review

by Dick Kerekes
Players by the Sea opened a two week run of Yasmina Reza’s 1998 Tony Award winning play, ART, in their black box studio theatre. The show will run through February 27th. One final performance will be done March 30th at the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville.
The opening Friday night performance was a special evening at Players as it was the grand opening of the Grune Family Galley that will feature art work all year around at the various productions in this theatre. A juried art show with the works of 22 painters was part of the opening night reception with Hope McMath, director of the Cummer judging the show. Moises Ramos’s work entitled “Cardinal Sins # 3″ was chosen as best in the show, with second place to Ronald Gibbons with “Flight” and third to Jan Bialka with “Palms at Hanna Park”. All the works will remain on exhibit till the end of the run
ART is the story of the dramatic effect on three friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan, when Serge buys a very expensive painting of abstract art—a 4 ft x 4 ft canvas of white lines on a white back ground. An initial debate about the value of modern art compared with traditional art work ensues. We soon learn the real issue is the friendship between Serge and Marc. Yvan tries to act as a mediator between the two friends but eventually he is drawn into the dispute at a deeper level than he cares to be.
When Marc learns Serge paid $200,000, he loses his cool, describes it as “merde”, and worthless! Yvan, in private tells Serge he likes it, but later confesses that he too thinks it is “merde”.
This play won two best comedy awards in London, and is one of the best written and intelligent comedies that you will ever see. I had seen this show at least three times previously and they were all excellent productions. Player’s version certainly has top-flight acting, excellent direction and superb production values.
The play was directed by Dave Alan Thomas, in his Duval County directing debut. He teaches English and Drama in Clay County and has an impressive resume of directing credits. He is also an accomplished actor, and I had the pleasure of seeing him as the King in Pippin at Players and as Roger Debris at Orange Park, and Thomas is a very funny funny guy on stage. His direction made this the most humorous of the ART I have experienced. Thomas obviously gave the green light to his actors to take it over when it came to humor.
Paul Carelli makes his local theatre debut as Serge, the tall/handsome dreamy eyed owner of an interesting and controversial painting. He brings an impressive resume of roles from theatres in Kentucky. He is good and you will be seeing more of him on local stages in the coming months.
T.R. Hainline as Marc is the master of meaningful looks and pauses, as Serge’s well dressed aeronautical engineer friend. Hainline’s only other theatre credit in the program’s biography is as Officer Barrel in Player’s production of Urinetown, for which he was nominated for a Pelican Award. Judging from his stage presence and timing, Hainline has obviously done considerable theatre somewhere in his unknown past.
Joseph Walz is hilarious as Yvan, the good natured bungler, who is less successful in life than either of his good friends of fifteen years. Yvan does a monologue about his mother, step mother and mother in law that is a riot and brought the house down. 2010 it appears will be a banner year for Walz so far. He started off January by singing the title song “Mack the Knife” in The Three Penny Opera with First Coast Opera, and his current role is a sure Pelican Award nomination in my book.
Lee Hamby’s set design, goes along with the painting with lots of white on white (couch, chairs, etc). You visit each of the character’s apartments. This is done by using the same furniture, and shifting it around with the cast as the movers.
The action all takes play in Paris, although the program does not tell you that. The characters names and references made in the script are all French in origin. “ART” was translated from that language and the only change is referring to the price of the painting as 200,000 dollars rather than francs. 200,000 francs when this play was written in l994 was $40,000 American dollars, not a very impressive sum in these days of billion dollar bailouts.
If you like witty, intelligent scripts I urge you to see this play. If you have seen it, like me you will find some new meanings in this very cleverly written show. Ms. Reza currently has another hot comedy on Broadway, God of Carnage that opened in 2009 and will be one that every theatre group in town will want to do.
Just a reminder, if you miss ART at Players, you can catch it at the Cummer at the end of March on Tuesday the 30th. ART is 90 minutes long and is done without intermission. Be for warned, there is some earthy language.