Take a walk through the local modern art museum and it will quickly become evident that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
Modern art is almost always a love it or hate it affair, which is exactly the theme Yasmina Reza explores in her Tony Award winning comedy, Art, currently getting an impassioned production by QLive! at Fort Worth's Firehouse Gallery. This marks the first fully staged production from the group, which has only done staged readings in its inaugural season.
The events of the play follow three friends, Marc (Jerry Downey), Serge (Scott Allan Moffitt) and Yvan (Dylan Peck). Serge has just bought a painting. By the noted artist, Antrios, the artwork is...not white. But it is. It's a large, frameless canvas, painted white, with white streaks. And while it's fine to make a small impulse buy every now and then, Serge has dropped $200,000 on it.
Marc, even more than being upset, is quite put off by the purchase. Yvan is a rather timid fellow and plays the side of whoever he is with or whoever is being more dominant at the moment.
As the three go round about arguing over the validity or artistic merit of the piece, long buried strife rises to the top and the arguments become much more personal. Serge and Marc, intellectual and professional equals, use the painting as a battlefield to assert dominance over one another. Yvan is the weakling caught between them.
Downey imbues Marc with a wry wit born out of upper-crust pretension and intellectual superiority. None of the characters are exactly endearing, and Marc and Serge ooze pomposity specifically, but Downey actually manages to lend the depth to the character that Reza clearly intended.
Peck gives a committed performance as the worrywart Yvan. Like Woody Allen with 10 times more neuroses. And it works. Playing the Everyman opposite his aesthete friends, his agitation at their egotistical rants acts as a surrogate for the audience reassuring everyone that, yes, the basis of the argument is ridiculous.
Moffitt is everything he's supposed to be in the beginning, which is thoroughly arrogant. However, he struggles to progress beyond that initial characterization into the much more vulnerable man bubbling underneath the surface.
Reza is very good at accessing human psychology through surface conflicts while injecting them with a biting humor. Art is no different and the cast, under the capable direction of Adam Adolfo, ably play with the balance between struggle and comedy.
Adding to the mood of the piece, the show is set in the round in a small art gallery. On display are various pieces that are clearly the result of the photograph on the program (view them in the photos above) of all three cast members covered in paint. The effect is subtle but certainly noticeable.
In the end, it's not about the painting. It's never about the painting in life, is it? The painting is just a door, opening to the path of self discovery. And what's so brilliant about Reza's play is just that. Above everything else, art is pure emotion put to canvas. It's no wonder it would evoke such a strong response.
That's what it's supposed to do.
◊ Here's a promo video: