The current offering at Gulfshore Playhouse is a theatrical event that you won't soon forget. 'Art' is the 1998 Tony Award winning French play that examines the relationship between three middle-aged men who find themselves at the crux of their long friendship.
When Serge (Brit Whittle) makes a 200,000 Franc art purchase, he finds himself under scrutiny by his friends Marc (Cody Nickell) and Yvan (Scott Greer). This painting, which would translate to just under $40,000, is a 3' x 4' white rectangle with 3 obscure white lines hidden within. So the questions arise; "Is this really art?", "Would someone actually spend so much money on a white canvas?", and "What does it say about the person who would?".
In true Reza fashion, the niceties between these three friends soon wear thin and we watch them use the power of words to tear each other apart. We begin to see that Marc's contempt for Serge's purchase has very little to do with the painting itself, but more about a past that gets unfolded before our eyes. Yvan, who probably could care less about Serge's decision, tries desperately to hold his friends together at all odds. The result? A heart-felt, tense, thought-provoking, and often funny 90-minute dissection of what friendship and unconditional love means.
Cody Nickell as Marc, seems to effortlessly bring a smugness and an arrogance to the role that is by-design difficult to like. Nickell consistently makes smart choices throughout the play, creating a complex character that we as an audience can't fully wrap our heads around. At one moment we can understand and perhaps agree with his assessment of Serge's purchase, but just as quickly through his callousness and ill use of wit and words we find ourselves rooting for the other camp.
Brit Whittle is so believable as the modern art lover, Serge that you honestly forget you are watching an actor portraying a role. Whittle's Serge has an initial likeability about him that is nicely juxtaposed to Nickell's Marc. Even though you may not understand his reason for purchasing the painting, you like him so much that you almost don't care. But as the play progresses and insults fly, we see another side of Serge; a side that is perhaps just as smug, and maybe even more pretentious than our initial assessment of even Marc. This duality would prove a difficult task for an actor, but in Whittle's capable hands is executed flawlessly.
The real star of this one-act gem is the amazing performance by Scott Greer as the put-upon, peace making, guy next-door Yvan. I'm not sure that I have seen a performance in recent years that was so funny and yet so moving. Greer creates an every man type of character that you instantly fall in love with. Yvan may not be the most culturally refined or even the brightest, but his naiveté is an endearing and welcome addition to this trio of friends. As we reach the climax of the play and it seems all sides have turned on him, he has a monologue that will simply break your heart. When he says "I am this close to tears", you really believe him. Greer's masterful performance will make you laugh one moment and leave you in a puddle of pathos and sympathy the next.
Director, Kristen Coury understands this play and more importantly understands the playwright. While 'Art' is very funny, Coury knows that these characters were written to be real people that we could easily meet on the street tomorrow. They are flawed, stubborn, and difficult people who through their truths we can find humor. My favorite moment of the play was a quietly funny and symbolic moment toward the end of the evening. After the flood of emotions and verbal assaults that seemed to go on for forty days and forty nights had finally subsided, these three friends sat silently passing an Olive Branch of peace between them. Watching these men silently pass a plate of olives back and forth was humorous in its simplicity. Given the monumental eruption of words that had just occurred, it seemed silence was all that was left. It was here that you could really see that Coury knew what this play was about. It's about the power of words, the power of friendship, and like the painting itself; the power of what lies beneath the surface unable to be seen.