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THEATER REVIEW: An ‘Art'-istic triumph at Playhouse

No playwright has said more in under 90 minutes than Yasmina Reza does in “Art,” the latest production at the Laguna Playhouse. And said it in so many different ways.

“Art,” translated from the French and somewhat anglicized by Christopher Hampton, is, on its surface, a comedy about a man who buys an expensive painting — all white — and tries to impress his dubious friends. But there’s much more bubbling under the surface, and much of it is far from comical.

Playwrights Reza and Hampton have drawn imaginary battle lines, over which its three characters continually cross, during a philosophical donnybrook among an instigator, an aesthete and a poor schnook who gets in their way. In the end, it’s less about art than it is about the essence of friendship and the three mature men who wind up verbally and physically squabbling like a trio of junior high kids.

Andrew Barnicle, artistic director of the playhouse, has given this literary banquet the spice of robust characterization. All three actors are mesmerizing in their effect on the audience — especially the aforementioned schnook who delivers a breathless, eternal monologue about events from his own life with which the playgoers are heretofore completely unfamiliar.

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Serge (Steve Vinovich) is the effete snob who has purchased the white-on-white masterpiece which Marc (John Herzog) dismissed as a piece of excrement (using the more familiar synonym). A third party, Yvan (Kyle Colerider-Krugh), is enlisted to settle the matter, which is the last thing he wishes to do. Besides, he has myriad problems of his own.

Herzog, appearing much like Stacy Keach in his Mike Hammer days, ruthlessly dissects the painting and Serge’s mental deficiency for buying it. But his tirade goes beyond artistic taste, extending to friendship, loyalty and all the other divine virtues which bond people together. Herzog underscores his character’s own insecurity as he takes Marc completely over the top into irrational fury.

Vinovich, the picture of sophistication, absorbs it all with patronizing smugness, yet his Serge is equally capable of outrage. This he unleashes late in the play, defending his affinity to what obviously is an unadorned huge white square and his prickliness at the constant criticism.

As the third wheel in this comic drama, Colerider-Krugh prefers to concentrate on his own trauma — he’s getting married soon and his stepmother doesn’t get along with his bride’s. This conflict draws the actor down a more visceral path, starting with the lengthy monologue and culminating in a tantrum of seismic proportions.

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Reza’s dialogue is much like prime rib tossed to three ravenous dogs. A line is delivered by one actor, repeated by a second and reprised once more by the first — all with decidedly different emphasis. It’s a literary multi-course banquet.

Even the simple apartment setting by Dwight Richard Odle proves unsettling. There are two easy chairs and an ottoman — set upstage of one of the chairs and nowhere near the area where one might rest one’s feet. Might this be a scenic comment?

“Art” is much like watching a table tennis match among three seasoned players, only with dialogue substituting for the little ball. It’s comedy and drama delivered at a breakneck pace.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: “Art”

WHERE: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

WHEN: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 & 8, Sundays at 2 until Nov. 4

COST: $25 - $65

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CALL: (949) 497-0787

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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