In Art, now at the Pasadena Playhouse, this triangle is played mostly for laughs, with plenty of serious questions under the surface. Playwright Yasmina Reza (who also wrote the seething God of Carnage) likes to put characters into downward spirals. A tense situation evolves from a seemingly harmless beginning, revealing all sorts of ugly or redeeming things about human conduct. Can you say “schaudenfraude”? If you can, and you like the feeling, you’ll love this play.
Yvan, Serge, and Marc are middle-aged friends who have known each other for a long while. Serge (Michael O’Keefe), a divorced dermatologist, is a pompous but passionate modern art lover who purchases, for 200,000 Euros, a stark white painting by a well-known artist. Marc (Bradley Whitford), married and an aeronautical engineer, is a controlling and judgmental critic. Yvan (Roger Bart), a child-man who is finally about to be married, tries to conciliate between the two more powerful figures. As the action unfolds, alliances shift, old resentments surface, names are called, and truths—or what seem to be truths to the men—are told.
But it’s funny, especially as directed by Emmy winner David Lee, who has made the play light and accessible. Across the stunning set, by Tom Buderwitz, Whitford skips and gambols as he takes on postmodern thought and his friends’ foibles, and sad-sack Bart delivers a monologue that has the audience gasping for breath. On opening night, O’Keefe didn’t manage to connect with his character as much as the other two, who were in fine comic form, natural, energetic, and relaxed.
And with all the goings-on on stage, the nearly blank canvas remains both a screen and a mirror. Projected on it are expectations, relationships, and long-simmering conflicts; reflected in it are our own attempts to connect, conciliate, and love. What do you see in art, in yourself, in your friends, and why? What do you believe in, and what binds you to your friends? Can you hear the truth, and do you want to? If you want to delve beneath the surface of the action on stage, there are weighty matters to consider. But if you don’t, go for the fun.
39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
Runs through February 19