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Theatre review: Talented trio triumphs in entertaining one-act play of provocative fun

Art is, well, Art.

Trying to define it or understand it is at least part of the journey in Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play now on at London’s Grand Theatre until March 11.

And it’s a wonderful journey full of brilliant dialogue, laughs and compelling truths about friendship.

Director Nigel Shawn Williams has offered up another gem to audiences after last year’s hit The Mountaintop.

From the casting to the design, this is a show that succeeds at every level, holding up a mirror for all of us to gaze into and forcing us to leave the theatre thinking and talking about issues we may prefer to avoid.

For me, that’s art and it’s a credit to the incredible talent of the playwright whose taut, at times hilarious, poignant and challenging script allows us to explore difficult issues in such an entertaining, fun way without the pain.

It’s a credit to Reza’s talent that she can do it using three male characters who are as real as the pal sitting next to you.

But it is also an exploration of issues everyone shares.

It tells the story of three friends Serge, Yvan and Marc, whose understanding of the meaning of friendship is challenged after Serge buys a very expensive piece of art that appears to be nothing more than a white canvas.

Marc visits Serge who tells him about the new painting and brings it out, setting it on an easel.

“You paid 200,000 Euros for this shit!” offers a laughing and bemused Marc, played by Michael Spencer-Davis, when Serge, played by Sam Kalilieh, asks for his opinion.

That’s how the debate begins, but it’s not where the show takes you.

E.B. Smith, who starred as Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop, plays Yvan, a man who doesn’t like conflict but is naturally and quickly drawn into the budding drama that threatens their friendship of nearly two decades.

In the hands of these three talented actors, Reza’s words come to life, the characters well defined, interesting and believable.

All three actors were outstanding in this preview show.

Yvan is a sensitive, caring and soon-to-be-married-but-conflicted friend who wants everyone to just get along.

Serge is a well-heeled collector of modern art, who seems to enjoy using his intellect to provoke and verbally assault and insult his friends.

Marc is a pragmatist living a comfortable and somewhat traditional lifestyle, but who has an intellect and inner strength to joust with Serge.

The trio is a reflection of society — Yvan a low-income stationary salesman, Marc a middle-class aeronautical engineer and Serge a successful businessman — and Yvan is their collective conscience, demonstrated when Serge attacks Marc’s wife for her disdain of cigarette smoke.

“You can’t demolish someone just because you don’t like the way they wave away cigarette smoke!” Yvan asserts.

The set is relatively sparse yet brilliant.

It is modern with grey couch, chair and coffee tables, a backdrop of grey-blue coloured rectangles and squares, like picture frames.

There are also two swivelling side panels that give slightly different looks to depict the homes of Marc and Yvan, who each have their art hanging on the wall — Marc’s a traditional landscape and Yvan’s an abstract with sentimental significance — and the feel of a spacious condo for Serge’s.

For the record, the canvas does appear to have some, uh, texture (in the right light) and I thought I saw some colour (perhaps some grey’s or off-whites, perhaps some blue?). Then again, as fashionistas often remind me, I’m partially colour blind.

But I’m not blind to great entertainment and Art is 80 minutes — one act — of thought-provoking fun that will linger inside you raising and answering questions, perhaps even challenging you to change.

If that’s not the beauty of Art, I don’t know what is.

— — —


What: Art, a play by Yasmina Reza, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams.

Where: The Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond St.

When: Continuing until March 11.

Tickets: Ranging from $ 29.95 to $ 82.50 (includes taxes and fees), available at the box office, by calling 519-672-8800, or online at

Rating: **** (out of five)

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