By Susan Nolan
The Colonial Players has kicked off its 74th season with a minimalist comedy by award-winning French playwright Yasmina Reza. True to the ideals of minimalism, Art features only three roles. The set is an ordinary living room—we only know which character’s living room it is by what painting is on the wall. Costumes are clothes pulled from the closet of any contemporary man. Although set in Paris in the 1990s, the play could just as easily take place in Annapolis in 2022.
Serge, Marc, and Yvan are three longtime friends, each with his own understanding of and taste in art. Their relationship is challenged when Serge (Jim Reiter) buys an expensive painting by Antrios, a fictitious artist modeled after renowned minimalist painter Robert Ryman. Marc (Tom Newbrough) is highly critical of Serge’s purchase. To him, the white, monochromatic painting is a blank canvas, and his friend is a fool for having spent 200,000 francs. An argument between the two ensues, with each trying to recruit the peace-loving Yvan (Sam Lunay) to his point of view.
The disagreement turns violent—but only briefly—before each friend is forced to come to terms with his own values and the role he plays in his relationships. Does Marc truly hate the painting, or does he fear he is losing his influence over Serge? Does Serge value trends and affluence over tried and tested friendship? Is Yvan’s unwillingness to commit to a side a sign of weakness or a just desire for a more harmonious life?
Under the direction of Debbie Barber-Eaton, Lunay, Newbrough and Reiter are all superb. Each delivers lengthy, thought-provoking monologues with dramatic depth and perfect comedic timing. As middle-aged friends navigating life and love, they are believable. Their stage presence is balanced, and their chemistry is what holds this play together so seamlessly.
But be warned: This production is not for everyone. If you are offended by strong language, stay home. If you crave non-stop action, skip this one. If you equate good theater with pageantry, you may be disappointed.
However, if you enjoy a beautifully performed, sophisticated comedy, Art is well worth your evening. Art will evoke emotions and give you something to talk about—and in the end, isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
Art runs through Oct. 1. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis, $25 w/discounts, RSVP: www.thecolonialplayers.org. Note: Face masks required at some performances.