BWW Review: Friendship And Artistic Philosophies Collide And Charm in ART
In Soulpepper's production of the 1998 Best Play Tony winner ART, written by Yasmina Reza and directed here by Philip Akin, the friendship of three friends is put to the test after one dives into the world of modernism with an expensive purchase.
Serge's (Diego Matamoros) acquisition of a painting that appears canvas-white with several white lines running through it (although ever-the-modernist Serge would argue that it isn't white at all) creates a rift between him and Marc (Oliver Dennis), whose tastes lie more in the traditional. From the first moments between Serge and Marc, both Matamoros and Dennis do a solid job of cementing their character's opinions and personalities with great comedic acting. Dennis brings to life a snide, funny figure who openly derides Serge's purchase, and Matamoros fields the attacks wonderfully as the calm modernist.
Dennis has developed an unlikeable Marc, whose cutting remarks and somewhat unsettling revelation on what friends are make him hard to love. As an opposite, Matamoros's Serge is cool and collected, seeming like the most sensible of the group until he too cracks during a particularly heated conversation - and given that his extravagant purchase put things in motion.
Navigating the rocky waters of the friendship is a complex task that falls to Yvan (Huse Madhavji), the decided middleman of the group who seems comfortable adapting his opinions to best suit his current company. Madhavji balances his character's position as the level-headed, easygoing friend along with the mania that Yvan falls into because of his upcoming wedding wonderfully, leading to an emotional, gripping monologue. Madhavji's casting as Yvan, who just wants to please his (older and white) friends, despite their disregard for his personal issues, adds a whole new perspective to the one-act play.
While all three actors have crafted interesting versions of their characters in this production, ART shines most when they're interacting. The heavy and at times complex dialogue is a bit pretentious, but it suits Marc, Serge and Yvan well - they're all so completely different that they need to go deep to find common ground. When tensions boil and words aren't enough, a fight ensues (fight direction by Simon Fon), if you can call it that - the flailing and slapping looks more like children arguing over whose turn it is to pick the TV channel than the kind of violence you'd expect from grown men. Once again though, it suits the characters and adds makes a tense situation funny.
The set (set design by Gillian Gallow) is kept minimal, with white walls and monochromatic furniture allowing for smooth transitions between each man's home. Switching the feature piece of art for Marc to a pastoral scene, and incorporating a 'motel' abstract piece for Yvan is a great way to show how their personalities and sensibilities have trickled into their homes, and the blank wall at Serge's is a strong reminder of why they're all fighting in the first place. Lighting (lighting design by Bonnie Beecher) does a perfect job of highlighting the paintings, and is used to create asides quickly and effectively.
ART is a highly comedic and philosophical take on what friendship is, what art is, and how these three men even became friends in the first place - something that's questioned by Madhavji's character late in the play. There isn't some big reveal explaining why have been each other's closest confidantes for over 15 years, and while all three actors are great together it's sometimes hard to believe they're best friends. Regardless, ART is a unique look at human nature through art and philosophy that opens the door for further conversation (maybe even among you and your own friends) on what binds and connects us all.
ART runs through September 1 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/art/7093
Main photo credit: Dahlia Katz