Monday, December 12, 2011
Theater review: Art at Firehouse Art Studios and Gallery in Fort Worth
The journey was relatable, not only for me but for every audience member that joined me for that experience.
QLive’s debut production of Yazmina Reza’s Art (which finished its run on November 26 at Firehouse Art Studios and Gallery in Fort Worth) was an intense emotional roller coaster that had the audience laughing in one moment and gasping in the next.
“Art revolves around three friends — Serge, Marc and Yvan — who find their previously solid 15-year friendship on shaky ground when Serge buys an expensive painting. The canvas is white with a few white lines. Serge is proud of his $200,000 acquisition, fully expecting the approval of his friends. Marc scornfully describes it as 'a piece of white shit,' but does the painting offend him or is it the uncharacteristic independence-of-thought that the purchase reveals in Serge? For the insecure Yvan, burdened by the problems of his impending doom, i.e. his wedding, and dissatisfaction at his job as a stationery salesman, their friendship is his sanctuary ... but his attempts at peace-making backfire. Eager to please, he laughs about the painting with Marc but tells Serge he likes it. Pulled into the disagreement, his vacillations fuel the blazing row. Lines are drawn and they square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendship.” (taken from Wikipedia)
No doubt the 1998 Tony Award Winner for Best Play was an excellent choice for a young theater company wanting to explode onto the scene. With snappy comebacks and surprising revelations amongst friends, Art was a play that explored more than a person’s opinion of post-modern art; it explored the very reason why certain people are friends. The dialogue moved quickly and tensions steadily rose. By the end of the performance, I wanted a copy of the script so to write down some of the most jaw-dropping and/or knee slapping quotes. The text in and of itself was a masterpiece -- the ingenious directing and spot-on acting were just icing on the cake.
The Firehouse Gallery in Fort Worth is a house built in the 1920s that was converted into a firehouse and now into an art gallery. This performance took place in the “living room” portion of the gallery. The “kitchen” was the bar/concessions and backstage area, while the one bedroom served as the gallery’s office. The garage was the gallery’s art studio. The audience sat in a U-shape pattern focused on a blank white wall and a brown oversized ottoman. Actors entered either from the kitchen or the front door as needed. Pieces of art hung on the other three walls, real art for sale by the Firehouse Gallery (no designers were credited). Due to the venue, there was no lighting design other than all the lights of the gallery on, at full, the entire performance. There were many instances where a shift in lights would have demonstrated a shift in location and/or time, but the lack of a true lighting design did not hinder the storytelling.
Costume design was also unaccredited in the program, but the director told me after the show that he designed, bought, and altered the costumes for each actor. Marc wore a basic black suit with white dress shirt and skinny black tie -- a very classic 1950s businessman look -- while Serge wore black dress pants and a bright royal blue dress shirt. Yvan’s costume revealed his character most obviously with his green bowtie, suspenders, big glasses, a two sizes too large green dress shirt and brown pants that were just a tad too short (i.e. floods). Though very subtle and understated, as the audience got to know the characters, the significance of their costume choice became more and more clear. Marc saw things in black and white while Serge was more emotional, and Yvan was an old-fashioned gentleman from another time, caught between the two. Without giving away too much, Yvan was also, smartly, given the opportunity to use his suspenders to make some very dramatic statements late in the play.
Director Adam Adolfo is known for his big spectacles and multi-thread storylines. However, with Art, he deviated from this as much because of the venue’s limitations as for his desire to let the “art” speak for itself. In this deviation, he proved that he was in fact a master storyteller. Adolfo utilized the entire space -- literally from the kitchen off stage to the living room, to the front door and even outside. As soon as the play began, the audience forgot they were in a non-traditional theater and were able to sit back and fully immerse themselves into the story unfolding before them. With the small audience huddled tightly around the space, the blocking really needed to be conceived in the round and Adolfo did this. Though sight lines were occasionally blocked as one actor spoke near the actor doing the listening, the actor that was the obstruction never stopped actively listening and reacting, so though the audience might have missed the facial expressions of the speaker, they gained the reactions of the listener. In other words, there were pros and cons to every seat, and because of the directing, every audience member felt they had more pros than cons. Adolfo also chose to keep the pace of the show brisk, not even having an intermission, which allowed the actors to proceed full steam ahead with their emotional rises in a truthful and believable way.
QLive! is the theatrical arm of QCinema, a film society that supports the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered community in Fort Worth. To be honest, I went to this production fully expecting a very homosexual themed retelling of Art. I was pleasantly surprised to discover Adolfo left the script alone. It was in very quiet moments, when the actors would look at each other, that maybe there was a subtle hint of a past romantic affair amongst these friends that was fueling these deeply held emotions. Then again, what friendship doesn’t have deep emotions that no one can accurately describe? As much as Brick in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is debated, the true sexual orientation of these three married, once married, or almost married (to women) men was left to the audience to decide and/or argue about in the parking lot after the show.
Jerry Downey as Marc began the show with a monologue about his friend Serge’s new painting. Downey is a young actor with a lengthy resume and a long and prosperous future ahead of him. Marc was smarmy, intelligent, and sarcastic -- and Downey added a layer of vulnerability that was slowly revealed as the scenes escalated. Marc was also the character who had the most one-liners that had me diving for a pen to write down his observations about modern art, and “the people who buy this crap.” Eighty percent of his performance was dead-pan humor but the other 20 percent was so soul-grabbing dramatic it almost made you forget that moments before he had you in stitches. Though not having the typical look of a leading man, any director would be smart to put the weight of a show squarely on his shoulders.
Scott Alan Moffitt as Serge held the task of balancing opposite Downey, and because of their chemistry on stage, the balancing act was successful the entire performance. Moffitt is reminiscent of a young Dylan McDermott, with his dark hair and bright blue eyes. When Serge bought the white painting on white canvas, he expected his friends to praise his choice. While Marc was 80 percent humor and 20 percent drama, Serge was 80 percent drama and 20 percent humor -- hence the reference to the balancing act. Like Downey, Moffitt squared off and addressed the audience, from time to time, in monologues, and he did so with total confidence: He made eye contact with audience members and conveyed his emotions as clearly as if he were experiencing them for the first time. Though I personally agreed with Marc’s assessment of Serge’s purchase, through Moffitt’s performance I also felt heartbroken over the lack of support he received from his friends. It was his visible struggle with his emotions that helped me to see his point of view and relate to a character so far the opposite of who I am personally. There could be no greater accomplishment for an actor, in my opinion, than to let me get to know him, care for him, and root for him, even though I disagree with his choices.
Playing the ping pong ball caught in the middle of the sparring sessions between Serge and Marc was Dylan Peck as Yvan. An inexperienced actor would fall prey to the temptation to make Yvan the “whiney nerd” and simply shuffle through the role, allowing the dynamic text to carry him through. Peck rose above this and truly created a three dimensional character. Though there were times when lines were shaky (opening night nerves mixed with a seven day migraine I happen to know Peck was struggling with can do that to even the best of actors), the emotions never once got off track. The dynamic intentions of Yvan, a man we knew little about and who seldom addressed the audience as the other two often did, were made more and more evident as he was tossed between his two friends. Without giving too much away, his final monologue during the climactic scene was hands-down the finest acting I had seen from Peck over the last year I have watched him work.
Though QLive’s debut production of Art has already closed, I often think back to the lines spoken in the play, the emotional journey it took me on, and how very relatable the journey was, not only for me but for every audience member that joined me for that experience. For their next production, I will make sure to have not only pen and paper to take notes but a healthy stash of Kleenex, too.
Pegasus News Content partner - Critiques by Laura L. Watson