The title of Yasmina Rezas international hit, Art indicates the plays central subject, a controversial artwork. But its larger theme is the art of maintaining close friendships and the consequences of letting them wither. Raleigh Little Theatres fine, funny staging will likely motivate audiences to reconfirm their valued best friends despite quirks and differences.
Serge, who likes all things contemporary, purchases a painting by a trendy artist for 200,000 francs. He thinks the all-white canvas is cutting-edge, but when he shows it to his longtime friend Marc, who values classical culture and well-established art, Marcs strongly negative reaction puts a crack in their relationship. They pull their younger friend Yvan into the fray, each trying to get him to take a side, but Yvans usual attempts to please everyone only anger them more.
Tensions escalate as the three bring up long-harbored irritations over perceived character flaws and bad taste. When things finally come to blows, the trios strong bonds seem permanently broken.
The plays dialogue is a heady mix of art jargon, cultural references and elevated language (with a smattering of profanity), but its easy to see the humanity beneath the sophistication. Director Jesse R. Gephardt astutely brings the human comedy to the forefront, attested by the warm, constant laughter from Friday nights audience. He keeps the pace moving in this 90-minute one-act but encourages his actors to take time to register reactions and to use silent moments to convey emotions.
The piece is well-cast with confident, experienced actors. Chris Brown fills Serge with the right mix of pomposity and frustration, revealing his insecurity and need for validation. Mark Phialas gives Marc an appropriate caustic peevishness that exposing his need to be acknowledged as arbiter and mentor. Yvans meek nervousness and desire to be accepted is fully limned in Kevin Leonards appealing portrayal.
Thomas Mauneys set cleverly represents three different apartments, and his lighting design cleanly distinguishes internal monologs from the rest of the dialog.
The staging for the three-quarter round seating obscures some key lines and reactions, but the intimacy it allows pulls the audience into the appreciable impact of friends falling out and their attempts to salvage the situation.