THE BASICS: ART (Tony Award for Best Play, 1998) by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, has a short run only through September 19, 2021. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.. Proof of vaccination required upon entry. Masks after being seated are optional. At Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore (formerly known as the Philip Sheridan school. Park behind the school and enter through the corner door). Starring Joey Bucheker, Rolando M. Gómez, and John Kreuzer. Directed by Victoria Pérez Download the playbill here.
Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: When Serge pays a huge sum for a 4 foot by 5 foot painting by a famous artist named “Antrios” that is a basically a plain white canvas, his friend Marc, apparently quite opinionated on everything to begin with, goes over the top and declares it to be “s**t!” Lines are drawn with poor Ivan in the middle as their long friendships are tested to the limit. It’s very French, with discussions about what is art, but it’s also very human about the nature of friendship, honesty, and compassion.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: First off, kudos to Joey Bucheker for a sort of break-out role as “Ivan,” just a hen-pecked guy who recently lost his job. Here Bucheker steps away from his drag creations “Betsy Carmichael” (a role which he will reprise starting September 25 in BETSY CARMICHAELS BINGO PALACE at Shea’s Smith Theatre) as well as “Rose” in THE GOLDEN GIRLS (on stage again at The Alleyway Theater starting November 4 as well as his creation of “Nurse Candida” in KILLER RACK, just to mention three very memorable roles. In ART Bucheker plays it straight as that comedy staple, the sad sack, the schlemozzle, the punching bag. But you can’t dismiss Ivan as a loser. In fact, his performance is very sympathetic and somewhat relatable which serves to contrast the outsized egos of his friends.
John Kreuzer (Serge) is no stranger to comedy, and can be seen again this November on stage reprising his role (cut short by Covid) as “Pastor Greg” in the hilarious HAND TO GOD (review here) at Road Less Traveled Productions. Kreuzer was also very funny in a low-keyed way recently in ALMOST, MAINE (review here) at Shea’s 710. His very reserved style as Serge was perfect in the way that he infuriated his friend, know-it-all Marc.
Rolando M. Gómez is a big guy with a big voice and big gestures so there was no doubt as to where his character “Marc” stood the worth of his friend Serge’s painting. As he strode around the stage in his shiny sharkskin suit he embodied that alpha-predator self-assurance which apparently used to be so appealing to both Serge and Ivan.
ART is not about families, per se, it’s about friends, but I was reminded of an image that John Bradshaw used in his 1980’s “On the Family” series seen on PBS. He likened a family to a mobile. When one piece of the mobile gets pulled in a new direction, the other pieces compensate to try to maintain balance. With families, or here with these three friends, Serge has apparently “gone off the rails” by buying a controversial painting (and this is important) without first consulting Marc, who sees his role in the friendship as the dispenser of wisdom on all topics – art, restaurants, books, etc..Marc is not happy.
Meanwhile Serge, who has already tasted a little independence in his art choices, is delighted at his power to get under Marc’s skin, his shark’s skin, as it were. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. And neither Serge nor Marc are taking their responsibility to be there for their friend Ivan in his hour of need. Of course, we in the audience are there for Ivan with extended applause after he pours his heart out to the two other guys, but they are more interested in their little power struggle.
In a conversation with director Pérez about how this production was funnier than another I’d seen, she said that she worked really hard to bring out the humor in a play that could easily have descended into an angry shouting match about aesthetics. That might be fine for a French audience in the 1990s, but not for an American audience after 18 months of shutdown on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We needed a few yucks and Pérez delivered.
Kudos also to Scenic and Lighting Designer Reuben Julius for a minimalist set which kept the focus on the painting and the three men. The “Antrios” painting was created by Sara Jo Kukulka. She also did the Logo Design which bears closer inspection as you look behind the three letters A – R – T. Go ahead and look. I’ll wait.
Mary Kate O’Connell’s costumes were spot on with a consistent gray palette and that sharkskin suit was inspired. I was also impressed by pianist Donald Jenczka for his music selections.
The Stage Manager was Sara Jo Kukulka, the Fight Director (yes, tempers flare up) was Daniel Lendzian, and the Technical Director was Bill Baldwin. There are many theatrical choices now but remember that ART closes after this coming weekend.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!