There are plenty of concepts within Art that may not translate well to an American audience. The idea of three grown, heterosexual men not only falling out over a painting but also plunging headfirst into a metaphysical crisis about said falling-out (and using words like “deconstruction” to describe it) seems relatively absurd this side of the Atlantic, where the state of male friendship is best summed up by either a Judd Apatow movie or a Budweiser commercial. But Art has long charmed American audiences, from its 1998 Tony-winning run on Broadway starring Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina to its 2009 Steppenwolf staging in Chicago. So the problem here seems to be in conviction. Although all three actors are likable enough, they lack chemistry, making it easy to dismiss their friendship as a mere thing of convenience rather than a real relationship worth fighting for.
Gardiner could pay more attention to timing: Some jokes are rushed, while in other scenes the pace starts to drag. Reza as a playwright is almost as enamored with pauses as Harold Pinter, once saying that, “in a play, words are parentheses to the silences. They’re useful to the actors, but . . . they aren’t the whole story.” Art, with its emphasis on discord and conflict, is as much a drama as a comedy. One scene where Yvan breaks down into tears is very moving, but otherwise the overall emphasis on playing for laughs actually detracts from the comedy.
James Kronzer’s set is stylish but manufactured: Ikea lamps and multiple white vases and books give off a catalogue feel, without any clues to offer insight into the lives of the characters (we don’t need furniture to tell us that Serge is attracted to minimalism). Kathleen Geldard’s costumes are nicely appropriate, with Marc buttoned-up in his vest and tie and Ivan suitably scruffy in his middle-aged leather. The production comes close, and it’s enjoyable enough, but it lacks the depth to really make us look beyond the superficial.
Art is at Signature Theatre through May 22; tickets ($61 to $81) are available at Signature’s Web site.
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