(The 4th Broadway Cast)

By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring Buck Henry, Wayne Knight, George Segal
Royale Theatre / 242 West 45th Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

I’ll just repeat, with slight modifications, my opening remarks from a previous review, since they still precisely reflect my feelings: It’s not often that a play is so invigorating that each time the cast changes, the event changes so intriguingly that you can’t wait to see it again…but Yasmina Reza’s "Art" is now on its fourth trio of actors and the potential to fascinate seems nowhere near ending. Partly that’s because the play itself is so stark: it’s a serio-comic examination of a male friendship (three men actually) that is tested to its limit when one of the friends spends a fortune to acquire a painting whose canvas is all white. (For a more detailed analysis of the play, the opening week review is still online in these cyber-pages: link below.) The physical backdrop is no less "blank" than the canvas, so the actors are in a unique position to "fill" it. But just as important are the defining idiosyncrasies of friendship–as the minutiæ of companionship’s intimacy is so exposed, the play cannot help but expose the idiosyncrasies of its players as well.

Buck Henry is perhaps the most authentic-seeming Marc since Alan Alda, in that his natural bookishness, his air of the pained, sometimes beleaguered intellectual makes the role a natural fit. Oddly (possibly because Mr. Henry has limited stage experience), he takes a little while to relax into his own rhythm…but once he does, he’s terrific.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s had a real-life decades old friendship with co-star George Segal. It informs their interplay, adding a subtle layer that no amount of rehearsal can buy you. And strangely, there’s not much to say about Mr. Segal, as Serge, the owner of the painting–he is so at ease with his own persona as never to be "caught" acting. His is the delicious turn of an old pro who makes light comedy look easy.

Between Segal and Henry there is also another element added–or more conspicuously emphasized–to the production (still sharp under the direction of Matthew Warchus). And that is…

…the pause…

Registering information that is outrageous or absurd, looking to its source, taking it in…

…and holding…

It’s an astonishingly powerful bit of comic ammo, and Segal and Henry are masters of it.

Better still, the person receiving the gazing pauses is Wayne Knight, who as the hapless Yvan, friend in the middle, evinces a sweet befuddlement–combined with a quiet intelligence his teevee sitcom characters rarely let him display.

It’s difficult, always, to think of the new "Art" casts as replacements, because each has its own wholly new chemical relationship to the material. Best merely to say that "Art" is as art-ful as ever, then, and hope that it continues as long as there are actors of note who wish to be in it…

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