Total Rating: 
August 8, 2013
August 25, 2013
Milwaukee Chamber Theater
Theater Type: 
Milwaukee Chamber Theater
Theater Address: 
158 North Broadway
Running Time: 
90 min
Yasmina Reza
Tyler Marchant

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opens its 2013-14 season with Yasmina Reza’s Art.The play captures the nuances of friendship – the ties that bind and, perhaps, the ones no longer worth maintaining – through the lens of fine art. Specifically, it examines the 15-year friendship of three middle-aged men. One of them unknowingly strains the relationship between them when he purchases an expensive painting.

In 1998-99, Art played more than 600 performances at Broadway’s Royale Theater, winning the Tony Award for best play. The original cast featured Alan Alda as Marc, Victor Garber as Serge an Alfred Molina as Yvan.

The play opens in Serge’s all-white apartment. Contemporary white leather furniture is offset by a white shag rug and a chrome-and-glass coffee table. Serge’s new painting is white, too. In fact, it is entirely white, with a few white lines raised from the white background. Serge pays an exorbitant price for this so-called “masterpiece.”

Oddly, what sets the Milwaukee production apart is the scenery. Specifically, it is the back of the set. Its large, black and white configuration resembles a giant Mondrian painting. One surmises that director Tyler Marchant wants to make every aspect of the play immersed in art. To that end, each character wears a different, primary-colored shirt (red for the hot-tempered Marc, blue for the intellectual Serge and yellow for the cowardly Ivan). The backdrop is illuminated with colored lights to signify which apartment belongs to which guy. When Marc’s apartment is featured, for example, the red squares light up, and the entire set is bathed in red light. Kudos to lighting designer Jason Fassl for tackling this complicated task. The set has even more tricks to display. When it’s time to switch to Marc’s or Ivan’s apartment, a small section of the set automatically flips to a painting. The action makes one think of how letters of the alphabet are displayed in TV’s “Wheel of Fortune.” It’s a clever way to highlight the men’s various tastes in art.

The set is so predominant here that it almost becomes another character in the play. Generally speaking, this could signal disaster. But in director Marchant’s talented hands, it becomes one more entertaining feature. It is particularly useful for amplifying the men’s emotions throughout the play’s 90 minutes.

Thankfully, the set does not distract from the acting, which is excellent throughout. As Marc, Brian Mani delights from the first scene. When presented with Serge’s purchase, Mani’s body movements alone convey Marc’s feelings about this painting. His wordless reaction is greeted with waves of laughter, which grow stronger until Marc finally breaks his silence. “It’s a piece of shit!” he exclaims, as the audience falls apart.

Another of the play’s highlights involves Yvan and his family issues. Yvan is about to be married for the first time. He bursts into Serge’s apartment and begins an excruciatingly funny monologue about his dilemma. As Yvan, Tom Klubertanz wrings every bit of hilarity out of this outrageously funny tale, which builds to the point where one is certain that Yvan is about to pop a blood vessel. By the end, Klubertanz has us convinced that Yvan is close to a nervous breakdown. Anyone who has gotten caught up in pre-wedding madness – especially surrounding the wedding invitations and wording on the church program – can relate to Yvan’s desperation.

As Serge, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright proves to be a good match for the other characters.

Although it’s played for laughs, Art has more than a few touching moments. The three men, all of whom are at least age 40, understand that they face a lonelier existence without each other. They are careful about the barbs they launch at each other, realizing that the stakes in this game are high. Art is a good reminder that old friendships, while not always worth preserving, at least deserve careful scrutiny before they are allowed to drift away.

Brian Mani (Marc), C. Michael Wright (Serge), Tom Klubertanz (Yvan).
Set: Keith Pitts; Costumes: Kim Instenes; Lighting: Jason Fassl; Sound, Victoria Delorio.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
August 2013