March 4, 2016

in Plays

Play (1994)
by Yasmina Reza

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Fran Weinberg

Arts After Hours
Lynn Arts
25 Exchange Street, Lynn, MA
March 4 – 19, 2016

With Jason Myatt (Marc), Anthony Mullin (Serge), Thomas Genon (Yvan)

Robert Rauschenberg, 'White Painting [seven panel]' (1951)

Robert Rauschenberg
White Painting [seven panel], 1951
Oil on canvas, 72 x 125 in
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York, NY
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

An excellent production of the witty and moving dramatic comedy about three middle-aged men who argue about the merits of an almost all-white painting that one of them has just purchased at extravagant cost.

Serge (Anthony Mullin) has bought an almost all-white minimalist painting for a great deal of money. When he reveals this to his close friends, Marc (Jason Myatt) and Yvan (Thomas Genon), they respond variously, and the encounter of tastes sets off the ensuing conversations in such a way that the friendships get run through their paces.

Yasmina Reza’s relatively short play – here, one hour and forty-five minutes without intermission – is a gem, a small laboratory of interpersonal relations that work themselves out over a painting.

It is certainly easy to see the play as largely about the merits of minimalism and the rancor that can arise from conflicts about that. More importantly, however, the play is about the men themselves, how they harbor feelings towards one another and how they evoke mutual vulnerabilities as they appear to argue about the merits of the artwork.

Seneca (4 BCE - 65 CE), Roman Stoic philosopher

4 BCE – 65 CE
Roman Stoic philosopher

It is also quite easy, when treating the play as a glib conflict of points of view about minimalist art, to render the play’s densely packed lines with an effete bravado, expecting that the flying barbs will entertain while the rancor seethes.

In more nuanced productions, the text is massaged more carefully and the delicacies of the script are allowed to levitate and mature. The current, wonderfully intimate, production is of this sort, revealing in each of the play’s many persuasive lines a nuance and subtlety that makes for extremely satisfying theater.

This approach, and the directorial command offered by Fran Weinberg, makes itself known at the very outset as Marc, the stick-in-the-mud of the trio, delivers a brief summary of the painting his friend, the nouveau-pretentious dermatologist Serge, has just bought. The phrases are bent and whittled, delivered with a command and phrasing that expresses the complexity of the feelings behind the observations. Myatt gives this brief opering in a wonderfully shaped way, yielding the sense that the implications of a story putatively just about a painting is going to deliver much more.

Yasmina Reza, playwright

Yasmina Reza

Each of the three actors in this wonderful production brings distinctive energy to the mix.

Thomas Grenon, as the befuddled and beset Yvan, unable to really settle himself into the prospect of an impending marriage and half-hearted about his new-found career in the stationery business with his prospective inlaws, delivers a cumulative sense of anxiety and catharsis brought on by the aesthetic argument that erupts between his two friends.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”
– Seneca
Moral Letters to Lucilius
Letter 3 – On True and False Friendship

Yvan has the longest speech in the show, an elaborate two pager that involves all the intimate politics of an engraved invitation for his upcoming wedding, detailing the disputes between estranged parents, stepparents and his bride-to-be. Grenon gives it a paced and deliberately shaped delivery, in which each frustrating detail of the plans folds and layers onto the preceding ones. The result is a sense of a grand psychological edifice, a kind of anxious Tower of Neurotic Babel that in one fell swoop summarizes Yvan’s plagued relation to the world. Grenon executes this brilliant soliloquy with adeptness, poise and conviction.

Jason Myatt’s Marc is effectively and persuasively irritable and determined throughout, conveying an intensely principled stance that yields to no sense of passing fancy. It’s a great interpretation of this role which gives Marc a more appealing aura than he might otherwise have.

François Pinault, French billionaire, noted collector of contemporary art

François Pinault
French billionaire
Noted collector of contemporary art

Anthony Mullin’s Serge is wonderfully glib and aloof on the one hand and atrociously intense on the other. When he comes, in the end, to help make his mark, he does it with sangfroid and grace. It’s a great moment.

In addition to be a delightful chamber dance, an ensemble work in a charmingly intimate theater, the play is evocative drama. This production, though filled with laughs, is also moving and intense, a true tribute to the spirit of Reza’s wonderful work, a small contemporary classic.

Now in its sixth year, Arts After Hours has, with this fine and intimate production, reasserted its capacity to contribute superb theater from its modest perch on the North Shore.

– BADMan

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

bpb March 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

ART was a very entertaining show, i do want to point out that the actor who plays Yvan, his last name is Grenon. His performance is not to be missed.

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