Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2021

Review: Shakespeare & Company, “Art”

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 22, 2021
by Stuart W. Gamble

Yasmina Reza’s play “Art” won the Tony Award back in the late 90’s and featured Alan Alda as one third of an articulate, well-educated group of middle-aged men who comprise the cast of this thought-provoking dramedy, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton. Now more than 20 years later, this at times savagely funny play, is a welcome revival performed at one of the Berkshire’s finest theatrical venues.

Director Christopher V. Edwards has staged the show simply, in the open-air Roman Garden Theatre at Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, Massachusetts. Patrick Brennan’s black wicker sitting room chairs with white cushions and a wood paneled bar suggest an upper-middle class apartment that could be any urban setting (in Reza’s original, it was Paris.)

Photo by Nile Scott Studios
Into this minimalist, chic apartment, appears a plain white canvas, purchased by dermatologist and art connoisseur Serge (Michal F. Toomey). His closest friend Marc (“ranney”) is appalled that Serge would spend an exorbitant amount of money on what Marc calls “a white piece of shit”. The third member of this close-knit group, Yvan (Lawrence L. James) is the ultimate diplomat, alternating between praise and condemnation of this controversial piece of art. Their informal gatherings also give support to each man and his particular love life. Serge is bitterly divorced, Marc’s girlfriend is despised by Serge, and Yvan’s fiancée is described by Marc as a “gorgon.”

All three men give standout performances. Toomey’s controlled rage and “ranney”’s cut to the bone criticism finally erupt into fisticuffs that smacks more than a bit of Abbott and Costello, adding to the absurdity of their shouting match. Lawrence L. James, however, delivers the finest (and funniest) performance of all three. James’ tour de force re-creation of a three-way telephone conversation between himself, his fiancée, and his Jamaica-accented mother earned laughs and applause from the audience.

Why did Reza make all her characters in “Art” men and why three men who all seem so diametrically opposed to each other? I believe that Reza, like the characters in her play, is exploring male relationships and how men relate to one another: they fight, they compete, they belittle each other, but often they fail to be honest and just with each other. A catharsis is achieved, and they try to reconstruct the rubble of their broken relationships.

Stella Giulietta Schwartz’ linen jackets and pants, pastel-hued oxford shirts, a vibrantly colorful matching shirt and short combo worn by James, and various Panama hats, offered (I’m sure) ease of movement and comfort for the actors performing in the outdoor heat.

Performed for 90-minutes and intermission-free, this“Art” is a funny and thought-provoking production, which shows how sometimes we have to destroy what we love and rebuild it again, in order to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of that object of our affection (family, friends, art, etc.). Like the blank canvas that is a catalyst to the play’s action, we must add color, form, and nuance to our lives through experience, love, humor, and acceptance.