Witty comedy coming to theater

This winter, the Los Angeles Pierce College Theater will host a production of “Art,” a quick-paced, Tony-Award-winning comedy.

With a spartan set and a cast of three, the players are slated to rely on deft acting skills to convey a story of three friends torn apart by an expensive piece of modernist art.

Written by French playwright Yasmina Reza, better known for her more recent “God of Carnage,” and translated by British playwright Christopher Hampton, “Art” won a Tony for Best Play in 1998 for a Broadway performance and an Olivier Award in 1996 for Best Comedy.

“It’s a thinking person’s play,” said Valorie Grear, the play’s director. “The language is very exciting. It’s about a serious, sometimes intellectual battle, but it’s also extremely funny.”

Its combination of a minimal set and cast, and a snappy yet introspective script have made “Art” a popular choice for smaller theaters, like Pasadena College’s theater where the play was performed last season, after the recent budget cuts.

“You see more and more regional theaters that are trying to save money in tough economic times doing smaller plays like this,“ said Michael Sande, the managing director at the LAPC Theater.

In a 1998 review in Newsweek, the play was said to be “a nonstop cross-fire of crackling language” that was “like a marriage of Molière and Woody Allen.”

While the setting shifts throughout the play, the set remains static and unmoving throughout the course of the 90-minute comedy, with one exception.

“It takes place in three apartments in Paris,” Sande said. “The only difference you see in the apartments is a painting.”

In a production of smaller size like “Art,” Grear feels that more weight is placed on the shoulders of the actors.

“With only three actors, it’s very challenging and demanding,” Grear said. “You can’t have a weak link.”

Sande shares that sentiment, and said that the actors are up to the task.

“We have three really great actors,” Sande said. “Anytime you do a show with this few people, they have to be pretty good.”

Marc, a pragmatist and aeronautical engineer played by David Klane, is unsettled by his friend Serge, an accomplished dermatologist played by Michael Hovance, when Serge shows Marc a nearly-blank canvas that he bought for 200,000₣ (about $40,000).

Yvan, a mutual friend of Marc and Serge played by Robert Briscoe Evans, presents himself as the trio’s balancing force, if not an on-edge flip-flopper.

“As they argue, it brings up deep-rooted resentments they’ve had for quite some time,” Sande said. “Their friendship is actually threatened by this painting.”

The three characters are well-versed in art, but Grear says that there’s more to the play.

“There’s a lot of internal conflict about ideas about art. But it’s really about friendship,” Grear said.

According to Grear, the script permits the characters to be thoroughly fleshed out, “offering the actors a real challenge in terms of carving their character in contrast to the other two.”

Grear said the play’s solid script provided for more intimate rehearsals when compared to a larger production.

“I think what’s drawn us together is a remarkable appreciation for the material. It’s just fun to work on,” Grear said.

“Art” premieres at the LAPC Theater Friday, Dec. 7th at 8 p.m. at Pierce’s temporary Performing Arts Complex.

For more information or to purchase tickets call (818) 719-6488.