by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Morris Panych
Starring Colin Mochrie, Peter Donaldson and Evan Buliung
Playing through April 10th

Reviewed by Robin Breon


This is the third production of Art I've seen since its Paris premiere in 1994 where it won three Moliere awards for best play, best playwright and best production. Now translated into over 35 languages, this short, sharp and smart debate between friends on the nature of art continues to please even as it enters its dinner theatre and summer stock phase of theatrical half-life. But freshen up the white paint a bit, add in a few new scenic elements (as director Morris Panych has creatively done with this Toronto re-mount) and let the sparring begin with Serge, Mark and Yvan holding forth on the value (both aesthetic and commercial) of Serge's avant-garde canvass for which he paid 200,000 francs (approx. $50,000).
The play is popular for two reasons: it is a genuinely funny and candid interaction that is shared between long time friends who really speak in unguarded and direct language about their feelings. Value added for Canadian audiences comes from the fact that it echoes the candid national debate (protest might be more accurate) the country had in 1989 when the National Gallery of Canada purchased abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman's 1967 work, Voice of Fire, for 1.8 million dollars. The large canvass, which consists of a single red stripe on a blue background (or two blue stripes on a red background depending on how you look at it) is worth in excess of 10 million dollars in today's art market. The second reason for the play's popularity is that it is short; at 80 minutes, it is about as much time as anyone visiting the theatre after a full day might care to spend on the subject.
Colin Mochrie, Peter Donaldson and Evan Buliung play Serge, Marc and Yvan respectively as they insult one another, attempt to reconcile and then fall out once again while trying to figure out whether strong feelings about art should determine the future of their relationship as friends. The actors underplay and expertly get their laughs in all the right places, Yvan gets his applause after his extended monologue that reveals the imploding details of his upcoming marriage, and it all works out well in the end.
Upon the third viewing of Art I couldn't help but to think what other elements might be brought into it in order for us to see the play in a new light. It occurred to me that the character of Yvan, the most sensitive of the three men and the peacemaker of the group who is all worries about his upcoming wedding and his relationship with his new mother-in-law, might be gender bended and cast as a woman. The more I listened to the dialog, the more I became convinced that it would open the play up a bit and give a little employment over to some of the women who immediately count themselves out when they see yet another production of Art on the upcoming season of plays on the mainstage of one of their cities' theatre companies.

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