Review of “Art” at the Guthrie – An Apocalypse Because of a White Square

Two men looking at a painting
All photos by Dan Norman

Suffice it to say that the amount of joy I got out of watching the Guthrie’s production of Art was a pleasant surprise for me. The play circles questions around art, taste, disagreement, friendship, status, the way individuals and friendships change over time, and more.  Art pokes and prods at these topics with a rapid-fire comedic tone that will keep you laughing for the duration of the show even as you file away questions and comments to run by your theater partner as soon as you’re able.

Art is about a trio of friends whose relationship is surprisingly torn asunder when one of them (Serge, played by Robert O. Berdahl) purchases a white painting crisscrossed with white lines. Marc (Patrick Sabongui) is horrified by the quality of the art and the amount of money that Serge spent on it. Yvan (Max Wojtanowicz) doesn’t love it but approaches the diatribes of his more opinionated friends in a friendly, lukewarm kind of way. The friend group buckles under the strain of the painting as all three men try to figure out why the others are being so uncompromising in their love, hatred, or ambivalence of this piece of art.

The production behind Art is effective. The minimalist set features a clean, white backdrop that places the three men into an environment as sterile as Serge’s painting. Clear, acrylic chairs; spartan tables; and a modern leather bench (also white), offer a versatile environment for the men to navigate around without distracting from the roiling dialogue. Each man’s appearance is carefully curated. Serge’s turtleneck, Marc’s man bun, and Yvan’s New Balances tell us who they are just as loudly as the words they speak.

Yasmina Reza’s play Art premiered nearly twenty years ago, and aside from some run of the mill misogyny (lots of disdain for wives and mothers), it feels very of the moment. These three men find themselves at the brink of destroying their decades long relationship due to one disagreement (granted, one disagreement that opens the door to many until-now unvoiced quibbles and gripes). In the last few years many people have lost friends and family because of disagreements fostered by online echo chambers. Most of these losses were not born out of something as petty as a painting, but a play that examines how a poorly-timed disagreement about the wrong thing can destroy relationships will lead to some interesting, topical conversations.

Art runs until January 28th. My best recommendation is to find someone interesting to go with you. It could be fodder for an argument or a reconciliation. Make sure to plan on going out for drinks or snacks afterwards. You’re going to have a lot to talk about.

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