A Southern California audience can certainly believe that a resident of one of those cities would pay the equivalent of 200,000 francs for an all-white painting, and then vigorously maintain to skeptical friends that the piece is quite obviously a work of art. A subtle rendering of the idea that bad taste and pretentiousness are not confined to France is one of the pleasures of this presentation of Reza’s popular play.
Serge (Michael Hovance) is a dermatologist with sufficient income to add an original painting to the décor in his sleek, modernist apartment. Well-versed in critical theory and both an avid reader of art journals and a trend-spotter, Serge knows what he likes and he knows why he likes it. Still, even supremely confident art connoisseurs need their opinions validated.
He asks his close friend Marc (David Klane) to fill that role. But to Marc, this all-white painting not only fails to meet any sane person’s definition of art, it’s a four-letter word that begins with “s.”
Appalled and hurt, Serge seeks a second opinion from Yvan (Robert Briscoe Evans), the third of three characters in “Art.” Yvan, weak and equivocal by nature, places the painting in the “perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t” category, infuriating both his companions.
The white-on-white painting in the production, which is directed by Valorie Grear, is portable and dreary, as if it was done at the last minute by a procrastinating art student. By contrast, in the production earlier this year at the Pasadena Playhouse, the painting was comparatively large and shiny. You could easily imagine that work displayed on the wall of a West Hollywood gallery.
Whether dictated by budget constraints or a deliberate decision, the Pierce piece heightens the play’s comic possibilities; theatergoers will think that Serge is nuts to maintain that the thing before them is worthy of being called art.
As portrayed by Hovance, Serge displays the classic poses of the serious collector; hand on chin, body turning this way and that, eyes staring intently for hidden meaning beneath the bland exterior.
By contrast, Marc hasn’t the patience to “contemplate” works of art; he knows within the first minute if a painting is good or awful. In Klane’s performance, Marc doesn’t walk across the stage, but struts, ready to direct mockery and insults toward any work that he believes cheapens the definition of art.
Evans’s Yvan is pale and nervous; you would expect his palms to be covered in sweat. On Evans’s face is registered a perpetual, low-grade unhappiness. His character may not have smiled in 20 years.
Costume Designer Ellen Gizienski dresses the characters in various combinations of black and gray. They start out as followers of fashion, but end up its slave. The appropriate soundtrack, provided by Sound Designer Edward Salas, has the cool, contemporary pop/jazz feel of incidental music for a public radio station.
“Art” runs December 14-16 at the LA Pierce College Theatre Performing Arts Complex, 6201 Winnetka Avenue, Woodland Hills. Tickets are $15 for general admission, and $12 for students and seniors. The play is performed December 14 and 15 at 8 p.m., and December 16 at 2 p.m. To order tickets, call 818-719-6488.
Photo - Michael Hovance, David Klane and Robert Briscoe Evans star in the Tony Award-winning comedy, “Art,” which is on stage at L.A. Pierce College Theatre Dec. 7-16. Photo by Lynn Levitt.