Three men in their sparsely furnished apartments argue over the massive expenditure by one of them on a piece of inscrutable modern art. This is the premise of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s ART. Rather than agreeing to differ, the trio spend an enormous amount of time debating the qualities of the painting (which appears to the audience as an all-white canvas) and criticising each other’s values.
John Wood plays the aggressive Marc, Geoff Kelson is the somewhat otherworldly Serge and Kim Gyngell the acquiescent Yvan. Each is splendidly in character and they do well at bouncing off one another. Gyngell is particularly good, his extended neurotic monologue earning him a spontaneous ovation from Saturday night’s audience.
But ART is by no means the uproarious tear-wiping comedy I had expected from the publicity and international awards. It is undoubtedly amusing, cleverly written. It has many a good laugh. But it fails to come to grips with its themes in any meaningful way or to say anything particularly new or memorable.
Apart from art criticism, the play explores the nature of friendship among men. Yet it doesn’t ring true to the nature of male friendships in Australia, nor perhaps in France either. Many of the emotional probings of the participants seem more feminine than masculine. Perhaps that is the point, to show the feminine dimensions of male emotions, yet the interrelationships don’t seem quite real, and Mademoiselle Reza’s capacity to adopt a male perspective seems little better than that of the Bronte sisters.
Nor can one really imagine too many men (or women for that matter) become obsessed over a strange aesthetic choice by one of them. A bit of ribbing perhaps, but no ongoing resentment or demands for explanation. In all of this, the strongly Aussie accents of the trio strike a discordant note.