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Rollicking comedy emphasized in ‘Art’


Published:   |   Updated: August 12, 2013 at 10:23 PM

Take a French play with the high-falutin’ title “Art” and you might expect an entertainment for bookish, professorial types. But this witty entertainment now at American Stage is best described as a comedy of insecurities.

Serge, Marc and Yvan have been buddies for 20 years, hanging out together and enjoying a gruff comfort in each other’s company that’s never been provided by their (unseen) ex-wives and future wives.

But when Serge (Gavin Hawk), a dermatologist, buys an all-white painting for the huge sum of $200,000, he throws their relationships off balance. Marc (Ricky Wayne), an aeronautical engineer, accuses Serge of being an intellectual snob, of throwing around big, art-world words like “deconstruction” and “modern.”

“Our friend Serge considers himself a collector … a connoisseur. ... You can’t laugh with him anymore,” says Marc, who accuses Serge of trying to join the high-end, elite crowd.

This is France, after all, where intellectuals are considered important and elegant.

Enter the humble Yvan (Brian Shea) a roiling, rumpled ball of confusion, whose aim is to patch things up between Serge and Marc. Yvan, a clerk in a stationery shop who is bullied by his fiancée, is the sloppy, sweating Oscar to Serge’s buttoned-up Felix.

When Yvan pretends to admire the all-white painting, Marc sniffs, “He is dazzled by what he believes to be culture.”

Directors Todd Olson and Michael Edwards have emphasized the rollicking, broad comedy in this production. It’s a strategy that effectively cuts through the intellectual hot air surrounding Serge and Marc.

Of course, the punch lines are built into this award-winning script by Yazmina Reza, who is a celebrated playwright in France and across Europe.

Note that the climax of the play is as satisfying as it is unexpected.

Hawk and Wayne effectively hold their own as Serge and Marc, but it is Shea who glues the show together in a bravura performance.

Of course, the bawling, sprawling Yvan is the most colorful personality here compared to buttoned-up Serge and angry Marc. But Shea brings many dimensions to a character who could have been simply a flat, cartoon figure.

In contrast to Serge’s austere, all-white painting, Duncan McClellan’s works in glass, with their vivid reds and golds, bring welcome warmth to Jerod Fox’s set.

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