• Theater Review: ‘Art’ as entertaining as ever
    By Jim Lowe
    Staff Writer | October 12,2013
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    Photo by Lindsay Raymondjack Photography

    From left, Mark Alan Gordon, Adrian John O’Donnell and Roy Cutler star in Vermont Stage’s production of “Art.”
    BURLINGTON — “What is art?” That’s the question ostensibly being asked in Yasmina Reza’s 1990s hit comedy, but it’s not exactly what the play is all about. It’s more how a piece of art manages to unravel 15 years of friendships.

    Vermont Stage Company opened a production of “Art” this week, and at Thursday’s performance it proved to be witty, hilarious and even touching.

    “Art” premiered in its original French version in Paris in 1994. Translated by Christopher Hampton (the version used by Vermont Stage and most other theaters), the play opened in London’s West End, starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Scott, and ran for eight years. Hitting Broadway in 1998, it won the Tony Award for best play, with Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina, and continued for 600 performances.

    And, for a time, “Art” could be seen everywhere. Fortunately, Thursday’s revisit proved more than warranted.

    Serge has purchased a painting, a white-on-white canvas by a fashionable artist, for the astronomical sum of $200,000. And he’s most proud of it, now considering himself something of a connoisseur. His esteemed friend Marc’s reaction, however, is somewhat different. He calls it crap.

    Marc not only disdains the work of art, and the taste of his longtime friend, he’s genuinely angry about it — and the two argue, sometimes with wit, other times bitterly.

    Into the fray comes the gentle Yvan, already beset with the problems of a pending wedding. Serge and Marc each try to win Yvan over to their side, sometimes to the point of browbeating. The result is an unraveling that eventually reveals the reason and importance of their friendship.

    What makes “Art” entertaining is the acerbic wit, often like a French version of George Bernard Shaw. What makes it touching is the depth of the characters and the authenticity of the friendship dynamic. It’s quite a romp.

    The Vermont Stage production, deftly and imaginatively directed by Tara Lee Downs, benefited from a fine cast. Mark Alan Gordon delivered a particularly delicious comic performance as Marc, with delightfully dripping sarcasm, but also conveying the depth of the character’s feeling for his friends.

    Roy Cutler, save for a few timing missteps, was a natural as the nave and pseudo-sophisticated Serge, a perfect straight man for Marc’s barbs. Adrian John O’Donnell effectively managed the balance of pathetic and sympathetic as Yvan, usually the victim of the other two.

    Vermont Stage’s physical production was a stylish one, with a generic but elegant apartment setting by John Paul Devlin, effective lighting by Lauren Stetson and appropriate costumes by Suzanne Kneller. Martha Goode’s musical choices for the sound design contributed notably to the play’s stylish atmosphere.

    Finally, it was the interplay of the three that made Vermont Stage’s “Art” downright fun.

    Vermont Stage

    Vermont Stage Company presents “Art,” by Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton), through Oct. 27 at the Flynn Center’s FlynnSpace, 153 Main St. in Burlington. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, plus a 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 12. Tickets are $37.50, $32 for Wednesdays and matinees; call the Flynn box office, 863-5966 or go online to www.flynntix.org. For information, call 862-1497 or visit www.vtstage.org.
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