Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA
Art by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Christopher V. Edwards. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Calm down is the last thing you can tell a man who has lost his calm."
At Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA Yasmina Reza's comedy in its Christopher Hampton translation is playing in the Roman Garden Theatre (see the photos) unless it rains as it did on opening night when it was moved into the Tina Packer Playhouse. Its three actors took to the shift easily and the audience found the air-conditioned space a perfect change from the wet garden. The actors, Lawrence L. James as Yvan, "ranney" as Marc, and Michael F. Toomey as Serge all delivered nicely in this awkward look at a special friendship among professional men who face the problem of disagreement over the value of a piece of artwork Serge has purchased for $200,000. An oft-revived play this is its twenty-fifth year on American stages. Still, you may not know this piece; I advise you to see it. On so very many levels it is a worthwhile ninety minutes.
Most of the play is set on Serge's garden terrace in The Berkshires, a cultural Mecca where art galleries populate every town and contemporary artists prevail. Serge has discovered a rare painting from an early period of Andreco's development and spent a fortune to acquire it. This painting - all white, infuriates Serge's friend Marc who enlists their mutual pal Yvan to convince Serge of his foolishness. Yvan is reluctant to criticize Serge. The play begins.
Marc is a married man, Serge is single and Yvan is engaged with a forth-coming wedding on the horizon. The men eat together, drink together and go to the movies together. They are almost inseparable. This is a friendship that defines the word. And yet it only takes one picture to test the ties that bind. In the course of the play the three men go through an enormous number of trials, intellectual, emotional and physical, before they are able to resolve their problems and restore their special relationships. In Reza's world fiction mirrors truth.
"ranney" is new to the Shakespeare company and he is a definite asset. His acting, his character development is superb. He brings Marc to life a complete man who knows his friends' limits, but Marc pushes them to grow further and to make their choices Marc's way. Marc is a man who prefers to see his world complete and held together his own way and he does not like to see his own preferences ignored. In the play's situations, his friends have other views and goals.
This actor brings both a strong voice and a strong personality to the stage. He has a commanding presence and he is equally at home with physical comedy as he proves in the fight sequence with Toomey's Serge. When Marc mocks Serge, he does so with full-bodied laughter and when he asks Yvan for support there is an honesty expressed with both body and voice. Watching him in this role is almost like eavesdropping and that is hard to beat.
Michael F. Toomey makes his return to the Shakespeare and Company roster witih this role and he is most welcome. His Serge is as honest a portrayal as I have ever seen. We can see his new purchase with his eyes when he looks at it. His studied expression hits home instantly. His ardor and resoect for his friends is well stated in his voice and his physicality. Almost every gesture, at first, feels like an embrace. When he is rejected, Toomey's Serge loses energy for a moment, only to regain it quickly. This is the youthfulness of Serge in his middle age which Toomey converys beautifully. We never, not for a single moment, see the actor in this play, but only the character. Again, that hint of eavesdropping hold s our attention.
It is very much in character for Yvan to be a bit theatrical and Lawrence L. James shows us just how theatrical a younger man can be under these circumstances. His Yvan has a tendency to be a performer, having taken a more commonplace form of employment where his talents will let him shine. James uses his voice in such a way as to show off his baritone naturalness and his deep bass extension for emphasis. This more-manly-sound proves his youth and it gives him reassurance in this unusual friendship. When his two friends almost destroy his wedding plans, his speech tugs at the heart and provides a bit of relief at the same time from the hot topic of conversation. Also new to this company his versatility on stage is most welcome.
Taken as a piece this play holds together well as it explores the boundaries of friendship with its difficulties and its rights. Director Christopher V. Edwards manages his characters well and together they hold the play in capable arms. Like many Berkshire houses neighbors can overhear and sometimes observe the occupants of other homes and Edwards has managed to give us that feeling throughout the play. Costume designer Stella Giulietta Schwartz has put these men in personality appropriate clothing on Patrick Brennan's intricate set. And,, of course, there is Kristin Leahy's painting and drawings. It all hangs together for a fine edition of this play..
Art runs through August 22 inn The Roman Garden Theatre at Shakespeare and Company 70 Kemble in Lenox , MA For information and tickets call 413-637-3353 or go their website at www.Shakespeare.org.