Art can be a divisive thing. It’s easy to disagree about art. No two people share the same taste in art, even the closest of friends. Mile Square Theatre, hoping to continue its run of success after a recent riverfront run of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” explores the consequences of this conundrum in its latest show, the typically titled, “Art.”
Written by Yasmina Reza, the award-winning playwright behind “God of Carnage,” the play showcases the friendship of three men, Serge, Marc, and Yvan, and their intimate conversations-turned-arguments over a piece of art that Serge has recently purchased. The painting, a minimalist piece consisting of three lines on an otherwise blank white canvas, forces the friends to confront their deepest connections to one another and the realizations that they may not be the men they thought they were.
“It’s an intimate play, there are a lot of subtleties.” – Matthew Lawler
Friends, onstage and off
“Art” is the second of Reza’s plays that MST has performed, the first being the award-winning “God of Carnage” in 2011. Both plays explore characters in situations where they’re forced to confront the deeper meanings of their lives, making for the type of intense, ethereal theater O’Connor loves.
“Her plays take the masks off people who have a lot burning underneath,” he said. “She takes characters who think they see eye to eye on something but then brings out all this stuff about their relationship, and it’s a really wonderful collision.”
The friendship dynamic already present in “Art” is even more pronounced than usual in MST’s version, because O’Connor, Lawler, and Kevin are close friends who have worked extensively with each other, including in “Twelfth Night.” “Art’s” director, Jon Marans, said that taking advantage of working with three real-life friends allowed him to make the show that much more real.
“Having the opportunity to work with three outstanding actors who are also friends and have a shared history allows this production to more deeply illuminate these off-beat characters and their precarious relationships,” he said.
The actors took advantage of the fact that they know each other to such an extent, O’Connor said, that some of the show’s best moments were concocted when he, Lawler, and Kevin were sitting around on breaks.
“We’d sort of just be talking, and we’re friends, but we butt heads sometimes and that’s okay,” he said, “but at one point Jon just turned to us and said ‘That. That’s the relationship I want to see onstage.”
MST usually stages its productions in its spacious performance space at the Monroe Center for the Arts, or on the riverfront as it did with “Twelfth Night.” “Art,” however, is being staged at two intimate locations around town, at the Kolo Club @ Pilsener House, a small performance space on Grand Street, and the Mason Family Civic League’s 1200 Washington Art Gallery.
The idea to stage the play in smaller locations was Lawler’s, who said later that he thought the intimate nature of the play could be exploited better in a tighter space, as a key aspect of the play is to explore the uncomfortable side of reality.
“It’s an intimate play. There are a lot of subtleties,” he said. “Not to mention in a small space we could really use the painting as a character. It’s one of the only props and it’s prominently displayed onstage, so it’s really up in the audience’s faces.”
Both Lawler and O’Connor said that they hoped performing the show in new locations will widen MST’s audience. The company is beginning a new fundraising campaign, called NextStage, which it hopes will lead to a renovated space at the Monroe Center.
“People that go to Pilsener Haus may never have been to an MST production,” said Lawler. “We’re trying to bring the show to a new demographic. This show has a lot of originality in it and that’s something that can be appreciated by anyone.”
For more information on “Art” and Mile Square Theatre, visit milesquaretheatre.org. Tickets to the show’s remaining performances are $25, and can be purchased online by calling (201) 673-7014.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org