Your friend buys a painting. Not just any painting, but an Antrios painting. In fact, it may be the best Antrios painting around, better than the three at the gallery. It’s a staggering work—about five feet by four—and it cost—well, I won’t say how much, but it’s more than you earn in a year. And did I mention? Oh, goodness, did I forget to mention? The painting is completely white. Genius? Or madness?
So begins Art, Players’ Theatre’s latest production. When Serge (Steven Finley), a precocious aspiring collector buys the infamous white painting, his longtime friends Marc (Sara Harvey) and Yvan (Douglas Clark) have mixed reactions. Marc is confused and dismayed at such an ostentatious purchase. After all, the three are young, (somewhat) single, and broke, so where did Serge get that kind of money? Yvan, the trustworthy and neurotic optimist, tries to see the painting from Serge’s view, including what Serge is convinced are shades of yellow, blue, even a touch of grey underneath the bright white. What begins as lighthearted disagreement about the painting quickly deteriorates in a whirlwind of bickering and escalating betrayals that cause the audience and the characters to question the foundation and nature of friendship.
With a small cast of three, each actor shines in their distinct—yet co-dependent—roles. Sara Harvey delivers a fierce performance as Marc, whose need for validation and affirmation almost destroys her friendship with Serge and Yvan. Yet, Marc is not the villain—Harvey captures the simultaneous insecurities and indignation of a friend who suddenly feels overshadowed by the offensive arbitrariness of what we conceive as art.
Are these artistic distinctions arbitrary? Finley’s convincing portrayal of Serge persuades the audience that they are not. While the egregious painting looms—on stage and psychologically—in every scene, his conviction in his monstrous purchase and its personal value to him is admirable, yet somewhat repellant as his stubbornness causes his friendships to fray.
In fact, Marc and Serge are not likeable at all. Yvan is the most sympathetic character because he deflects Serge’s arrogance and pretension and Marc’s biting cynicism, which, despite Clark’s fabulous height, are dominating. In spite of his bullying costars, Clark’s excellent performance doesn’t characterize Yvan as an “amoeba,” like Marc repeatedly says, but a bastion of good-natured—albeit sometimes naive—friendship.
Art achieves a nice balance between funny and irritating. The constant bickering and displays of various neuroses is almost exhausting, but not quite. For all their flippant intellectualisms and art-speak, by the end of the play Harvey, Clark, and Finley reveal the vulnerability of their characters and the fragility of relationships in the face of extreme ego.
Art is playing Feb. 22-24 at 8 pm in Players’ Theatre, 3rd floor of SSMU, 3600 Rue McTavish.