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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Art’: one of the most compelling and artistic shows of semester

Published: November 21, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

“My friend Serge has bought a painting. Serge is one of my oldest friends.” So begins “Art,” written by Yasmina Reza, a play that follows the tension between three friends—Serge, Marc and Yvan—when one of them spends an exorbitant amount of money on a modern painting. The avant-garde piece appears white—there are no distinct lines, contours, colors or shapes—with white stripes diagonally crossing the canvas. Though it is highly prized by Serge, Marc has an especially hard time reconciling with his overpowering feelings of confusion, frustration and utter annoyance, which mainly stem from his perception of the outright absurdity of the purchase. Despite the fixed focus of the play on three men’s conflict over a painting, the performance posed larger questions about how value is assigned, the foundation of friendships and even the highly debated definition of art.

Before the start of the play, a very gleeful Maddy Lenchner ’17, the stage manager of the performance, kindly gave me a tour to familiarize me with the “bells and whistles” of the set. The performance took place in Ridgewood Commons and utilized the entire space, including but not limited to the kitchen, lounge chairs and tables. No area was off limits—the audience inadvertently became a member of the cast, although not in a stress-inducing way. The space was for the most part similar to the original Commons setup. Letters, dried fruit and other foods were scattered throughout the kitchen, and a copy of Seneca (a prop) was placed on the coffee table. These small additions to the set were conducive to a comfortable, relaxed environment and were consequently huge drivers of audience interaction.

The characters underwent a wide range of emotions, from bitter anger and piercing desperation to a serene calm. These feelings were especially potent because as the characters’ identities were revealed, it was perfectly believable to consider them one’s acquaintances, if not one’s close friends. This is telling of the capability of the performers and their deeply rooted understanding of their character—an awareness that at no point could be broken, even when the cast members shook hands with the audience before the start of the show.

Marc, played by Raphael Stigliano ’18, was the most averse to Serge’s prodigal spending. In many ways, Marc’s discomfort and concern over his friend’s life choices were understandable; he sneered and jabbed judgmentally. Stigliano’s performance was strong and biting; the sheer power that emanated from his every line could be perceived as both a righteous statement and a stinging comment.

Serge, played by Dylan Hoffman ’18, needed his decision to buy an original Antrios to be validated by his friends to overcome an underlying insecurity. The real issue in this case is that Serge determines his self-worth by his material possessions and outside approval to figure out the true worth of his things. Hoffman’s performance was quite enjoyable because of the certainty with which he delivered every line—as if it were gospel truth—and his awareness of his body language, gestures and facial expressions and how all these things come together to make a character.

Finally, Yvan, played by Max Moran ’17, was left to mediate the heated emotions between the two—and was inevitably thrown into the fire. Yvan, the “amoeba” and “coward,” was effectively dramatic and tense—even emotionally unstable at times. The character with the greatest emotional range, Moran was unafraid to moan with his head in his hands, wiggle his legs with anxiety and slam the door with irritation. Though possibly the weakest, most fragile character of the three, Moran’s portrayal made Yvan the most memorable character—his emotional displays show his ability to put himself out there.

One of the most artistic and compelling shows of the semester, “Art” by Yasmina Reza was thought provoking. Aaron Fischer ’15, the director, was especially skilled at incorporating the actors’ performance to take form in their surroundings. At the end of it all, the white, abstract painting takes on a new shape as Marc describes it from his perspective. Maybe that white canvas, even if it didn’t seem like much, was worth more than Marc had originally thought.

“Art” will be performed at Ridgewood Commons Friday, Nov. 21 through Sunday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m.