Sunday, April 3, 2011

Check Out Highly Recommended Art

by Matthew Falduto

Amana - Art isn't really about art. Art is merely a means to the end in Yazmina Reza's play (translated by Christopher Hampton) about three long time friends whose clashes over a painting threaten their friendship. Serge purchases a plain white painting with white lines and eagerly shows it to his friend, Marc. Marc finds the painting ridiculous and is aghast at the amount of money Serge spent on the piece. Both Marc and Serge enlist the third member of the trio, Yvan, to his side, only to discover later that their peacemaker friend told each what he wanted to hear.

Each of the three performers is equal to the task at hand. Tim Budd plays Serge with a sly style that hints at the character's complete understanding of his two friends. One gets the sense that much of the action that happens is a bit of a familiar game to Serge as he enjoys needling Marc, played by Patrick Dulaney. Budd does needling well, but he also delivers when he has to verbally attack, using a vicious cadence and an unyielding posture.

Dulaney's bombastic and obnoxious portrayal of Marc makes him rather difficult to like early on. Only towards the end of the play when we realize Marc's annoying behavior hides a true vulnerability does the play truly come into focus. Dulaney does an excellent job portraying this contradictory character particularly using his face to take the language further. In fact, Dulaney's face is a canvas upon which he can create any expression, each more thought provoking or humorous than the last.

Yvan, the peacemaker character played by Old Creamery regular Sean McCall, maneuvers between these two larger than life personalities, trying to appease both of them. When they turn on him, Yvan completely breaks down. McCall expertly brings the character of Yvan into focus, wringing out all of the humor and all of the pathos that can be found. His ability to reinterpret again and again the word "Yes" in one scene is truly masterful.

Performed in Old Creamery's smaller studio space, Art's set is simple: three stools, seven empty picture frames of various sizes hanging on the back wall, a coffee table, a few small props. The lighting is effective, if a little dark during the monologues when the main action freezes and one of the character speaks directly to the audience.

Tom Milligan's direction is strong. Many times he cleverly uses the level of the actors, directing one to stand or crouch in contrast to another, to emphasize or de-emphasize a character or a particular action. His choice to hide the painting from the audience until the very end is a smart one, as well, adding tension to the play.

As the play moved toward its conclusion, I wondered how it could be resolved satisfactorily as these characters' friendship was spinning more and more out of control. I never imagined the final action, a clear moment of true friendship dramatized on stage that is both poignant and funny. This is a worthwhile show, created by talented professionals, and one I highly recommend.

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