“Art” – Southwest Shakespeare Company

This review aired on KBAQ March 5, 2012


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Farnsworth Studio Theater, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

Yasmina Reza’s “Art” discusses two significant concepts – friendships and the question of what is art?  Couple the intriguing play with a fine Southwest Shakespeare Company staging smartly directed by Jared Sakren and well performed and the result is well worth the trip to the Mesa Arts Center to experience.

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a SSC show and this production is the only non-Shakespeare play they are presenting this season.  “Art” marks a huge step for the company since this staging equals those by the Valley’s best theater companies.  Past SSC efforts I’ve reviewed haven’t been this good.

The play focuses on three male friends, Marc, Serge, and Yvan.  Serge buys an expensive piece of completely white modern art that has a few faint white lines here and there.  Serge fancies himself a person who appreciates new trends.  When Marc sees the painting, he detests it and thinks Serge is joking about liking it.  His uproarious laughter offends Serge and threatens their friendship.  Yvan is placed in the awkward middle.  After Marc’s briefing on the acquisition, he goes to see it.  Rather than offend Serge, Yvan lies and professes to like it.  The confrontations continue until the almost shattered friendship is salvaged when the men realize the importance of their relationship in spite of their differences.

The confrontations are peppered with rapid fire dialogue that amuses no matter how you feel about the painting.  To bring off this prize-winning play, you need a razor sharp production played by fine actors who rattle off the dialogue while earning constant laughter, keep the pacing brisk, and yet leave audiences thinking about the importance of friendships in their own lives and how they define art.  That’s exactly what the SSC production achieves. 

David Rodgers’ sharply etched Marc is opinionated and overly confident but is a traditionalist who can’t see any interpretation but his own.  Jesse James Kamps’ Serge is a strong believer in the painting and his “with it” views.  He steps up to the plate with fire and conviction when attacked by Marc’s narrow view of art.  Michael Bailey’s Yvan struggles with a mixed up life and does an admirable job of playing both sides as he fails to find a middle ground that won’t offend Serge, reflects his belief in the painting, and doesn’t offend Marc.  In tiring to sustain the friendship he waffles and slides, ultimately gaining both friends hatred.

“Art” is full of probing ideas about the definition of art and friendships.  You’ll laugh as you enjoy the discussion and leave thinking about the ideas.  “Art” continues through March 24.  For tickets, call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500.

Grade: B