Marc (Stephen Paul Johnson) reconsiders his assessment.
Yasmina Reze, directed by Kirk Jackson
Capital Repertory Theatre, through Oct. 12
Playwright Yasmina Reza surely had to purchase new shelving
to hold all the awards she won for her smash-hit intellectual
comedy Art: the Tony, Critic’s Circle, Laurence Olivier,
and Moličre Awards to name a few. This slew of honors designates
Art as a categorically powerful work—even as “the best.”
And yet, ironically, Reza’s script explores the subjectivity
of art, and the extreme diversity of human response to a single
The bonds between three longtime friends are tested when one
of them buys a very large, very expensive, and entirely white
painting. As their aesthetic sensibilities and divergent philosophies
clash, the fundamental differences between them emerge—and
their differences spin from intellectual discourse to explosive
emotion. One of the constant challenges tossed among the three
conflicting characters is, “Does it resonate with you?” The
same challenge can be put to the audience of Capital Repertory
Theatre’s production of Art.
Theater is particularly affected by the subjectivity of interpretation.
A painting, a sculpture, a novel—all are presented complete
by the artist, and interpreted by the audience. A script,
however, is interpreted and reinterpreted by dozens of artists
with each production, then offered to the audience who evaluate
the work both collectively and individually. In theater, subjectivity
is a vast room. Yet, within that room exist the distinct elements
of craft, which can be assessed on their own and, hopefully,
when taken as a whole, weave the nuances of the script into
a single, resonant story.
too, takes place in a vast room, adeptly created for Capital
Repertory Theatre by scenic designer Roman Tatarowicz. The
contemporary living room is crisp and spare—monochromatic
down to the houseplants—and offers dynamic playing spaces
for the small cast. The play is set in the respective living
rooms of its three characters. The neutral space is dramatically
altered by Michael Giannitti’s subtle lighting, and the rotating
placement of one of three distinct pieces of art to mark each
location. This simultaneously functions to define both space
and character—and to demonstrate the transformative qualities
Director Kirk Jackson clearly works tightly with his technical
team; the lighting design plays wonderfully with the set,
and both are executed with precision and detail. Tirza Chappell’s
costumes also are highly detailed and immediately character-defining.
She externally establishes the vast differences between the
three men. Marc, an aeronautical engineer, appears in khakis,
a navy sport coat, conservative red tie, and loafers, starkly
contrasting his modern, dermatologist friend Serge’s crisp
ensemble of black and gray, a T-shirt and V-neck sweater layered
under his blazer. Yvan, the eccentric peacemaker and stationary
salesman, wears moccasins, brown corduroys and a cozy green
The costuming is well executed, but the concept is flawed.
Like many of Jackson’s choices for the production, the costuming
heightens the superficial differences between the men. The
script is laden with their disparities. The easy choice is
to create three caricatured types who differ on everything
from their sensibilities to their shoelaces—and it is the
choice Jackson makes for this production. Unfortunately, much
of the script’s drama and nuance is lost to slapstick and
The three actors execute Jackson’s clear direction with skilled
comedic timing, precise mannerisms and crazed energy. But
the people they create are shallow and simple; the complexity
of their characters is sacrificed for laughs at every turn.
Serge (Donald Corren), the purchaser of the offending painting,
is sharp, cocky and stereotypically effeminate as the art-collecting
modernist. Marc (Stephen Paul Johnson) is the swaggering,
conservative “maverick.” Oliver Wadsworth’s Yvan is entertaining,
but wildly over the top. All three actors are technically
strong, and clearly following Jackson’s direction, but they
steer an award-winning script into the realms of television
At one point, Yvan speaks the scripted words of a shattered
man—suddenly realizing he is at the brink of losing everything,
and that the few things he has to cling to may not satisfy
him. He breaks down. And the audience laughs, and laughs and
laughs. Because the moment isn’t permitted the honesty it
deserves. He sputters huge, fabricated sobs into the wall,
his back to the audience, then spins around and mugs for laughs
before collapsing in a heap. Comedy can be made even funnier
when balanced with drama, but this production never lets its
guard down. Never lets its characters sink for a moment into
vulnerability or regret.
is an intellectually and emotionally complex play with little
dramatic action. The tension comes from wanting the trio to
survive this battle of intellect, aesthetics and independence.
Capital Repertory Theater’s production leaves you wondering
why the men were ever friends in the first place, and why
they shouldn’t just go their separate ways.
The production is technically polished and highly entertaining.
The caricatured, slapstick comedy had the bulk of the audience
in stitches for the entirety of the play’s 90 uninterrupted
minutes. But does it resonate beyond the moment? Does it challenge
its audience to examine their own perceptions and limitations,
their relationships and aspirations? Art has that potential,
but, in this production, the resonance and importance of the
script are squandered for the sake of laughs.