[Review] Yasmina Reza’s ART by SRT

From now till 30 September, Singapore Repertory Theatre will be staging ART by Yasmina Reza at the National Art Gallery of Singapore.

The French playwright’s comedy has been packing audiences in worldwide for 20 years. This critically acclaimed play has been nothing less than a phenomenon: it is estimated that the play has earned more than $300 million worldwide, and it has won a raft of awards in the UK, US and as well as in France, including the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1997; and the Tony Award for Best Play and Author in 1998.

ART is about one man, Serge (played by Gerald Chew), who buys an expensive painting – a plain white canvas with a few white lines – and the reactions of his friends, Marc (Lim Yu-Beng) and Yvan (Remesh Panicker), to his seemingly exorbitant purchase. Marc reacts with hostility; for him, Serge’s purchase of the painting is a grotesque joke. Yvan tries to mediate the hostility between Serge and Marc, at the cost being accused of setting up a loathsome complicity in their friendships. As their dialogue develops, the three friends are forced to ask questions not only about the nature of art, but about the nature of friendship.

Written in one act with several changing scenes, the set is very minimal, with the only thing changing between each characters’ apartment being a painting on the wall. In addition, there is neither a musical score or elaborate attire changes, forcing the audience to focus on the text and interaction of the three characters – both places where the play draws its strength.

Like a double-edged sword, this turns out to be a frustratingly confusing experience for the audience, especially with R. Panicker as the comic relief character of Yvan. He had failed to articulate his speech clearly enough, especially in one pivotal scene in which he had to describe his (very long drawn) domestic woes, losing the audience to a few awkward giggles when it should have caused an uproar of laughter. However, strong and steady acting by the other two veteran actors carried most of the weight in this three-man play, enough for it to be to easily comprehended in all its erudite word plays. Comedy aside, the play also manages to tug at the heartstrings.

All in all a profoundly admirable production by our local artists to provide international plays right at our doorstep.