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theatre review: yasmina reza’s “art” hits gasworks

yasmina reza art
I had trepidation about seeing a theatre show that was so ostentatious as to be named Art. That’s one big call right there. But it turns out French playwright Yasmina Reza’s work, which showed at Melbourne’s Gasworks Theatre from 1 to 3 August,  lives up to the title, pulling big philosophical punches one after the other. In fact, the entire play is designed around picking apart the minutiae of ostentatiousness – in both taste, and relationships.

The action follows three middle aged men through a quandary over one of the fellows’ freshly purchased piece of art – that pinnacle of Modernism – a white painted canvas.

Reza uses this object well as a space to develop the characters’ differing ideologies: Marc is an aggressive know-it all who has “risen above” such intellectual snobbery he believes has suckered in Serge, the painting’s newest proprietor. Serge represents a snivelling bourgeois wannabe (exactly how you imagine a 40 year old hipster in the 90s really was) and dermatologist with just enough cash to splurge $200,000 on a semi-well known painter as the starting piece of a collection. Insert Yvan, as the everyman fence sitter; the ‘I don’t care where we have dinner’ friend who both lubricates and constricts every social gathering with their inability to remain forever neutral. He is the embodiment of cowardice, as illustrated by his neither here nor there attitude to the new purchase. The three men verbally (and physically!) tussle over the painting. Arguing over whether it is a ‘piece of white shit,’ the object brings to light their differences and highlights how different each has grown in their long friendship.

The stage is a very clever three panel white carpeted construction, each a blank canvas the characters spill their emotional baggage all over. This subtle reference toward the ideological battle between Expressionism and Modernism was not lost as it became apparent the actors were shifting vessels for the ideals of each. At times it was like watching something of a slapstick duel between the two equally hopeless states of negativity and positivity bias (Marc and Serge), with boring old reality wedged somewhere in between (Yvan).

Art was often funny, witty, and incredibly thought provoking. To build such a terse intellectual momentum throughout, only to allow the audience release via a stick figure drawing of a downhill skier, is a stroke of absurd art madness – a fittingly absurd symbol for the raging passions of the individual, when we begin to ponder the meaning of art, and by extension of course, life.

Gasworks Arts Park, situated in Melbourne’s Albert Park, is a vibrant arts precinct producing a range of high-quality arts programs, workshops and activities for all ages. For show programming details, click here.

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