Deconstructing art & friendship in the razor-sharp, scathingly funny Art

Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis & Huse Madhavji. Set design by Gillian Gallow. Costume design by Dana Osborne. Lighting design by Bonnie Beecher. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Soulpepper gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at how a debate on the merits of post-modern art turns to an exercise in deconstructing friendship in its razor-sharp, scathingly funny production of Yasmina Reza’s Art, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Philip Akin, assisted by Daniel Spragge. The cerebral and emotional responses to a newly acquired painting set off intense and surprising ripples, impacting the relationship of three friends. Art opened to an enthusiastic crowd at the Young Centre last night.

Serge (Diego Matamoros) is very excited and happy about a new painting he’s just purchased and proudly shows it off to his friend Marc (Oliver Dennis), who despite attempts at a tactful response, laughs and proclaims it to be shit. And not only that, Marc is extremely concerned about Serge—for spending a ridiculous amount of money on a painting that he believes to be worthless, and for possibly turning into a poser. Looking for a second opinion on the interaction, Serge and Marc individually approach their friend Yvan (Huse Madhavji), using him as a sounding board as they relate their description of what transpired.

Yvan is more tolerant and accepting of choices and differences, he doesn’t see what the big deal is. Plus, he’s got problems of his own to deal with—namely, the wedding planning hell he’s navigating with his fiancée and their respective parents and step-parents. And when he gets his own unveiling of the piece, he doesn’t like it—but he also doesn’t hate it either—and respects Serge’s choice.

The debate between friends on the merits of the painting and post-modern art in general  turns into a deconstruction of their relationship, whereby barbed quips become savage accusations and revelations. Brutal honesty on steroids unveils hidden jealousies, revulsion—and even a heated battle for dominance in friends’ social and intellectual lives.

Excellent work from this three-hander cast in this hilarious and revealing look at art and friendship. It’s delightful to watch the child-like level of glee and enthusiasm with which Matamoros’s Serge unveils his painting to his friends, navigating sight lines and pondering the canvas, hand on chin; this coupled with the pride of a burgeoning art collector who’s acquired an important work. With the heart of a philosopher and more than a few hints of a status-seeker, Serge is a complex man. Dennis brings an amiable but somewhat aloof air of precision and worldliness to the urbane Marc; a fan of the classics, Marc looks with withering skepticism upon modernity in art and lifestyle—and any whiff of the poseur is met with great derision and suspicion. Marc’s vehement opposition to and concern over Serge’s purchase of the painting is obviously masking something deeper about their relationship. Madhavji is a treat as Yvan, the understanding and open-minded friend in the middle who laughs with, as opposed to at, the situation; the Switzerland of the trio, Yvan often acts as an umpire for his two friends. Accused of being disingenuous, a doormat and a coward, he’s able to see both sides of the argument and feels no need to dominate his relationships—he just wants to be a good friend and husband.

A savage comedy of manners, Art is a compelling exploration of how a response to outside stimuli (in this case, a painting) can trigger a deeper, visceral reaction to those closest to us. Passions flare with biting criticism and conflict, only to be salvaged by good humour, good nature and agreeing to disagree.

Art continues at the Young Centre until September 1; advance tickets available online, or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.

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Toronto Fringe: The savagery of civilized society in sharply insightful, brutally funny God of Carnage

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Halo Productions brings biting social commentary to Toronto Fringe venue the Helen Gardiner Playhouse with Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Katherine Bignell.

When their 11-year-old son Henry is badly injured by stick-wielding playmate Benjamin, Veronica (Françoise Balthazar) and Michael (Mike Lummis) invite Benjamin’s parents Annette (Angela Froese) and Alan (Stephen Flett) to their home for a meeting about the severity of the situation. The initially civil discussion turns to heated debate, then to violent argument as the adults get caught up in their sons’ playground altercation and reveal their own deep-seated prejudices, neuroses and hypocrisy.

Set in Veronica and Michael’s living room – the minimalist set design all in red, including two vases of red tulips – it becomes clear that Veronica and Alan are the alphas of their respective pairings, while Michael and Annette defer to their spouses, even to the point of mirroring their opinions; but as the action continues, the true natures and attitudes of all are revealed.

The cast does a great job, transitioning from well-mannered and even legal language to insult and cursing as civil conversation turns into drunken living room brawl. Balthazar brings a crisp, fastidious sense of decorum to the highly educated, well-travelled Veronica; and her liberal thinking and good manners reveal an underlying self-righteousness and ferocity. Flett is suitably despicable as the no bullshit, wry-witted Alan; a lawyer attached to his cellphone as an important pharma client deals with the possibility of a drug recall, he puts his career first, but actually does have a heart under all that brutal honesty. Lummis’s Mike seems affable and caring enough at first, a modern-thinking man who eschews violence and is concerned for his son; he soon reveals himself to be a phoney, as his layers are peeled away to reveal a conservative, callous hypocrite with less than friendly opinions on marriage and children, as well as gender and race. And Froese does a lovely job with the mousy, nervous Annette; adrift and put-upon, she is seething underneath and actually mad as hell. Like Mike, she defers to her spouse till she can’t take it anymore – and erupts in a rant about the state of their lives before settling in to intoxicated bliss.

The savagery of modern civilized society in sharply insightful, brutally funny God of Carnage.

God of Carnage continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.