BWW Interview: BETSY BITTAR DIRECTS 'ART'
Director Betsy Bittar and the Carriage House Players have teamed up to do the renowned Play "ART" written by French playwright Yasmina Reza.
Betsy Bittar chatted with me a bit about the Play, the cast and Carriage House Players.
MCL: Betsy, you are Directing ART. How did this project come to you?
BB: Mark, I read the play, and loved it, and immediately thought of the Taylor Theatre, and how the intimate space would be the perfect back drop for the play since the Kenan Center Gallery is renowned for their art shows, what better setting? I brought the idea to the Carriage House Players and they agreed. I also thought that Jazz music would be the perfect complement to the production, and with the tie in for the Kenan Center's "Jazz at the Taylor Theatre", producer Kathleen Rooney introduced me to Kelly Bucheger, who is frequently featured at the Taylor. Kelly provided me some great songs, original music from "The Secret Life of Insects", featuring saxophonist Bucheger. The group includes Doug Dreishspoon on drums and Marc Cousins on bass. Kelly notes that the compositions used in Yasmina Reza's Art, all improvised first takes, were recorded over two days at Doug Dreishpoon's former studio on Seneca Street in downtown Buffalo. The trio came together each day with no expectations, with open ears and a willingness to stretch out and experiment. Dreishpoon is the Chief Curator Emeritus at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Cousins' father was an artist who lived in Paris, so there are some interesting parallels with the play and the music we will be featuring.
Also interesting to note, is that I was able to commission a painting by local artist, John Shera, for the controversial painting in production. Shera's paintings and etchings have been featured in numerous galleries in WNY.
MCL: What is the story of ART about
BB:First, it is a really funny comedy, but the story raises questions about art and friendship, and involves three Parisians; Serge, Marc, and Yvan who are long time friends. Serge is an art connoisseur who loves modern art, and buys a large, expensive, and completely white painting. Marc cannot understand why Serge would spend that much money on a white painting, and they have various discussions about their differing opinions about what constitutes "art". Yvan, is caught in the middle, and tries to please both of them.
MCL: The Play is highly acclaimed. Can you tell us some history of it?
BB: Written by French playwright, Yasmina Reza, "Art" had successful runs in Paris in 1994, London in 1996, and on Broadway in 1998, earning multiple awards along the way including the Moliere Award for Best Commercial Production, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and the Tony Award for Best Play. Since then, it has played all over the world, and toured recently in March in England with Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson, and it also played last fall in New York for the Crossing the Line Festival. It has been staged infrequently in WNY, there was a Niagara University performance with an all female cast in 2012 at the Castellani Art Museum, Road Less Travelled did a staged reading with Alec Baldwin in 2006, and Studio Arena did it in 2001, so you can see it's been some time since anyone locally has had a chance to see this great play.
MCL: Tell us about each of the three main characters.
BB:Serge is a dermatologist who is divorced with children, and he has recently gotten into a high brow art crowd. Yvan is about to get married to a woman who appears to be a bridezilla, and he goes to a therapist named Finkelzohn who appears to be a bit eccentric. Marc, the last part of the trio is an aeronautical engineer who has a girlfriend who is a homeopath, and apparently is a bit controlling. The three have been friends for 15 years, but the events surrounding their different views of the painting threaten to destroy the bond they held.
MCL: Several years ago I read a story about the Playwright. She is a very interesting person. Please tell us about her.
BB: Yasmina Reza was born in France, her father was an Iranian engineer, businessman, and pianist, and her mother was a Hungarian violinist. She started out as an actress, and then in 1987, her first play, Conversations after a Burial, won the Molière Award. Her second play, WINTER CROSSING, won the 1990 Molière Award for Best Fringe Production, and her next play, The Unexpected Man, enjoyed successful productions in England, France, Scandinavia, Germany and New York. After ART, her play GOD OF CARNAGE also won multiple awards. Reza has been the translator for several Polanski films, and is also an acclaimed novelist.
MCL: Please talk about the wonderful cast
BB: I couldn't be happier with my cast, featuring Elliot Fox, who, we joke is Yvan; Russell Holt as Marc; and Alex Rubin as Serge. I had been in MY THREE ANGELS at the New Phoenix Theatre with Elliot in the winter, and approached him then to play Yvan, which is a very demanding role. Elliot is a talented actor who has been seen on all our local stages, including many Shakespeare in the Park productions. Elliot introduced me to Alex, who he was currently performing with in AFTER THE FALL, with Post Industrial Productions. Alex studied theatre and also performed professionally in Toronto, before coming back to Buffalo and he is just terrific as Serge. I was lucky to recruit Russell for Marc, he most recently played George Gibbs in The American Repertory Theatre of WNY's production of OUR TOWN.
MCL:In our next interview I want to go Into details on the Carriage House Players. Please give us a sneak preview of who are the CHP?
BB: Carriage House Players is "a collective of actors, directors, playwrights and guest artists bringing new and contemporary works as well as selected plays from esteemed dramatists to audiences in Western New York."
In-residence at the historic Taylor Theater, the Players are a collaborative program of the Kenan Center, dedicated to enriching lives by providing cultural, educational and recreational activities. The group was formed in 2017 and has presented four plays during that time including "Love Letters," "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," "Candid Conversations," and in April of this year, "Give Em Hell Harry!" We are about to announce a full season, starting in the fall, and we are going to be holding auditions.
ART opens May 10th, with performances at 7:30 on May 10, 11, 17, and 18, and matinees on May 12th and 19th at 2:00 pm. Lastly, we are planning a talk back featuring the actors, director, the musicians, and the artist on May 11th.
FOR MORE ABOUT "ART" AND THE CARRIAGE HOUSE PLAYERS:
ART Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2144356198983309
ART on Kenan Website: http://kenancenter.org/event/art-a-play-by-yasmina-reza/