Sunday, March 25, 2001

Theater review: 'Art'

Actors out of sync in 'Art'

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Center stage is the white canvas.

        Serge (Tim Donoghue) is the man who paid big bucks for it. Marc (Christopher McHale) is his friend who hates it (with great erudition).

        Yvan (Bill Kux) equivocates and conciliates and is late for their evening together because his fiancee and their stepmothers and his mother were in a dither over wedding invitations.

        Art, on stage at Playhouse in the Park, gets plenty of laughs at the expense of contemporary art, but it isn't really about art.

        It's about the anatomy of friendship, with playwright Yasmina Reza wickedly assessing the degree to which we choose our friends to bolster and even define our self-worth.

        The art of Art, a minimalist 85 intermissionless minutes,is in the playing, as Serge and Marc, driven by testosterone and fueled by intellect, try to score off each other.

        The winner will come with the concession of the other. The canvas will be declared filled with meaning and purpose or a word that rhymes with chit.

        Art demands tremendous flair, spot-on comic timing, a knowingness as dry as champagne, a chamber trio's unity in performance and that indefinable something we call “presence.”

        Art is set in Paris (on a fade-into-gray contemporary living room set by Bill Clarke that keeps the focus on the painting) and it shouts of a European style and sensibility.

        Director Charles Towers, who has made a lot of theatrical magic on Playhouse stages, including Closer earlier this season, goes strangely wrong here.

        While each actor defends his position as passionately as required, as a group they don't come anywhere near the comic plateau that's required to disguise playwright Reza's artifice.

        They also seem to be performing in different time zones.

        Mr. Donoghue catches the continental attitude and plays the piece with the necessary energy and urbanity.

        Mr. Kux drifts toward East Coast neurosis, but gets away with it because he has the show's funniest extended bit, a monologue about the above-mentioned wedding invitations. He cringes delightfully as he sits on the sidelines and listens to the hostilities bat back and forth and demonstrates the proper comic outrage when he comes under verbal fire.

        Mr. McHale's performance has a decided galumph to it. Too often he plays as flat as the Midwestern landscape as he stomps around complaining about deconstructionism and baiting his chums.

        With the actors so out of sync, you never quite understand how these men were ever friends in the first place (nor do you care.)

        Art, through April 20, Playhouse in the Park Marx Theatre. 421-3888.


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- Theater review: 'Art'
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