The story of Art is this: a wealthy, sophisticated white man buys a very expensive white painting, and his wealthy, sophisticated white friend is very upset about it. A third guy, more goofy than sophisticated but no less white, joins them and is the butt of all their jokes. This is Yasmina Reza’s award-winning 1994 comedy that still gets staged everywhere, all the time, and is in Halifax, again.
In theory, the premise of the play is not a bad one. It could be fodder for a clever satire of art and money, but Reza doesn’t strive for that. Instead, the dialogue is slick and funny and begs for juicy performances, but underneath it all is a trio of deplorable, and then quickly boring, characters having a single, lengthy argument about nothing at all. It amounts to a pissing match between three friends, with no stakes or heart, just winning and losing for the sake of it. Reza's script is not nearly self-aware enough for this to be tolerable for long.
And to be clear, the white painting at the centre of the play could be countless other things. The fact that it’s a painting at all, and the play is called Art, is a part of its infuriating brilliance. It could be called Car or House or Job. Here, the painting is just another marker of status. Or, anything that will get three guys to argue and berate each other about worth and ownership for 80 minutes. It’s a shame the play creates this framework with no interest in addressing it in any meaningful way.
All told, Art has little to say about art, or even about male friendship. It’s a stale story with a glossy finish. There was a recent production in Edmonton, another at the Old Vic in London, and it's sure to appear in upcoming season announcements near and far. Please, for the sake of an entire world of stories out there, put this play to rest.
Written by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by George Pothitos
Runs until June 4th