By Jordan Ikeda
RAFU STAFF WRITER
East West Players opened its 44th anniversary season Wednesday evening at the David Henry Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo with the Tony Award-winning play “Art” by French playwright Yasmina Reza.
Translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Alberto Isaac, the play exhibits witty dialogue and a simple complexity to its plot that revolves around the values of three individuals—an idealist, a skeptic and a conformist—who act as and believe themselves to be friends.
Francois Chau plays Serge, a successful dermatologist who has just purchased a piece by the famous artist Antrios that looks like a white 5X4 canvas. Seeking the approval of his two friends, Serge shows them this latest acquisition he admits has set him back 200,000 francs.
Despite the vivid detail in which Chau describes the beauty and feelings the Antrios emotes, Marc, played by Bernard White, can’t help but see past the absurdity in spending 200,000 francs on what he calls, in more vulgar terms, white fecal matter. In fact, the more Serge proselytizes about the beauty of modern art and the concept of deconstruction, the more Marc finds himself not only unimpressed, but irked to the point of outrage.
Yvan, played by Ryun Yu, finds himself caught in the crossfire. Yvan tends to agree with the moment and goes from complete shock of the price tag when told by Marc, to enthusiastic approval when shown the piece by Serge. As the bickering escalates, Yvan simply wishes the matter to go away. After all, he’s dealing with his own problems with the terrifying tag-team of his soon-to-be-wife and mother-in-law.
The set design is much like the Antrios, starkly white, but perfect for heightening the efforts of those performing on it.
The most memorable performance comes from Yu as the bumbling “yes”man. He invokes laughter when he retells the going-ons of his wedding planning problems, complete with voice switches to depict various relatives. The power of his performance reveals itself only at the end, when his dunce-like humor rapidly spirals down into a moment of despair.
Chau and White carry the intellectual aspects of the play, not only in their conversations over artistic value, but also in the subtleties of their actions. The offhanded eye roll. The tensed neck. The taught jaw. The looks and pauses. The casual, yet perfectly executed waving away of cigarette smoke. Lesser actors could easily make little sense of these stage directions. Chau and White, however, are money.
There is certainly a psychological battle being waged between the pair, evidenced by the soliloquizing of their interior thoughts. This psychological battle begins with witty banter, devolves into vitriolic words and then unravels into physical attacks.
The play appeals to both the higher spheres of mental superiority as well as the basic urges of physical domination.
At the end of the hour and a half play (no intermission), the audience is left with the impression that the strings that bind people together as friends can often be as ethereal and ambiguous as the definition of art.
After surviving what Yvan calls “the apocalypse,” these three very different friends have come to see one another more clearly. And while the Antrios might not have been worth the 200,000 francs it cost, the lessons learned from it, much like the play itself, contains value that money can’t purchase.
All performances of “Art” will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 20 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo. Performances run through Oct. 11, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m and Sundays at 2 p.m. General tickets range from $25-35. For more information, call EWP at (213) 625-7000 or visit www. eastwestplayers.org.