The Clarence Brown Theatre at the University of Tennessee campus is once again bringing potential greatness to Knoxville audiences. ‘Art’ runs from August 30th through September 14th. Ticket information is available through the Clarence Brown Theatre Box office at 974-5161.
A preview article follows.
â€˜A R T’
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
ABOUT THE PLAY
By Kim Midkiff
It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art.
Friendships last when each friend thinks he has a slight superiority over the other.
-HonorÃ© de Balzac-
What is art? What is friendship? These questions are at the center of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play â€˜Art.’ In essence, â€˜Art’ is a contemporary play about a contemporary friendship threatened by contemporary art.
This 90-minute comedy-drama has proved its international appeal by winning Paris’s MoliÃ¨re Award for Best Author in 1994, London’s Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1996, and New York’s Tony Award for Best Play in 1998. Due to its universal themes, â€˜Art’ has already had over one hundred productions in more than 35 languages around the world. Christopher Hampton, whose translation credits include Les Liaisons Dangereuses (both play and film), translated â€˜Art’ from its original French to English prior to its London run.
At issue in the play, in part, is the age-old question: â€œWhat is art?â€ However, there are more layers to the question and to Reza’s play. Art means different things to different people, and Reza attempts to show this through her play’s link between art and friendship.
â€˜Art’ isn’t really about art. It’s really about friendship, honesty, and the obsession with materialism and social status. The play revolves around an avant-garde, white-on-white painting which Serge, a dermatologist, has bought for $50,000. This seemingly irrational and irresponsible purchase so aggravates his friend, Marc, an aeronautical engineer, that their long-time friendship is threatened. The third character in the play, Yvan, a stationery salesman, tries to keep the peace in the trio of friends.
Yasmina Reza says that â€˜Art’ was born when one of her good friends bought an all-white painting for a lot of money. When Reza saw the painting, she laughed. Their friendship survived. â€œOh, yes, he is my very best friend, he loves the play absolutely. He was the first to read it. I asked him if I should correct anything in the way Serge speaks. He told me, â€˜No, unfortunately it’s accurate.’ He laughed a lot, and he still has the painting.â€
In â€˜Art’, the white painting is just a trigger for delving into deeper issues, such as Serge’s need to be validated by other people. Central to the piece, for Serge, is the fact that the experts say his painting is significant, so Serge believes it. However, he also wants validation from his closest friends, Marc and Yvan. Haven’t we all felt a sense of betrayal when a loved one or friend has failed to share our enthusiasm for a favorite novel or movie? Marc and Yvan in turn question their relationship with Serge, a man willing to spend such a large amount of money on something they find ludicrous.
With each man protecting his own sense of self, the play explores the nature of self in friendship. Are friends really themselves when they’re together or merely a reflection of one another? In the examination by these characters of their relationships with each other, â€˜Art’ becomes an examination of friendship â€“ its demands, obligations, and ultimately, its rewards.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times writes: â€œDid I say that â€˜Art’, which runs 90 minutes and is played without an intermission, is not only the shortest new play on Broadway, but also the funniest.â€