How much would you pay for a painting that is pure white? No other colour, no images — only an uncompromising, white canvas, with perhaps a faint trace of white-on-white lines.
That is the premise of Jasmina Reza’s “Art.” One of three Parisian friends has paid 200,000 francs for this hyper-modern creation, to the incredulity of his two buddies. Self-possessed, suave, epicurean Serge is proud of his acquisition, but closest friend, Marc, is angrily indignant and unyieldingly censorious. Easy-going Ivan — a rabbit caught in the headlights — is tolerant, puzzled and conciliatory.
The painting becomes the epicentre of an increasingly intense and violent dispute in a character-revealing comedy, in which friendship is fractured by ad hominem insults generated by response to Serge’s purchase. At first, Ivan attempts to act as buffer between Marc and Serge, but before long all three are going at it hammer and tongs, in differing combinations, cross-examining and challenging one another’s values and loyalties. And, when the painting is not the casus belli, the warfare shifts to Seneca’s “De Vita Beata,” or to scathing character disparagement, studded with expletives. Even Yvan’s unseen wife-to-be gets drawn into the fray. “You’re marrying a gorgon,” he is warned, as he obsesses over wedding preparations and recalcitrant mothers.
Realistic scenes are interspersed with stylized audience asides and confidences, while three strong and experienced actors work together seamlessly: Neil Butler (Marc), Rory Lambert (Yvan) and Dave Sullivan (Serge) revelling in a smart master-class of word and action and characterization.
Finally, with an unexpected flourish, things come to a head, all passion is spent, and the stage is yielded to the enigmatic painting. It could be a pink elephant in the room, it could be a purple grand piano. It is, in this case, an assertively and undeniably all-white painting.
Directed by Nicole Rousseau, the c2c Theatre production of Yasmina Reza’s “Art” continues at the Arts and Culture Centre’s Basement Theatre until Sunday at 8 p.m., with an additional pay-what-you-can matinee at
2 p.m. on Saturday. With no intermission, the lively piece lasts for an unpredictable and diverting 80 minutes.
The article has been changed to correct typographical errors.