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‘Art’ Works at LTA

Good things seem to come in threes.

There are the three letters of the title of the play “Art;” there are Marshall Henderson, G. Smith and Guy Palace, the three actors who perform the three parts in the play. There are the three elements of the play that are in balance: comedy, human interest and intellectual curiosity.

The play is structured around the arguments between three good friends. It all starts when one of them spends a small fortune on a piece of modern art, a white-on-white painting. One of his friends not only disapproves of the purchase, he is insulted that he wasn’t consulted. The other friend is caught in the middle.

The extended argument starts out as a debate on the nature of art and the economics of the art market. But it soon expands to the nature of friendship. The key to the success of “Art” is that the arguments never stop being funny. At the same time they never are only funny, they are always battles between genuinely interesting concepts.

“Art” was written by French playwright Yasmina Reza and was an instant success in Paris, where it won the Moliére Awards for best play, best author and best production. It was translated into English by Christopher Hampton and was a success on Broadway, where it won a Tony Award for best play. Now it is being produced at community theaters and local artists are getting their chance to sink their teeth into its intriguing concepts and characters.

As Serge, Marshall Henderson is the image of the suave art collector who gets such pleasure from the purchase of a large canvas by a modern artist that is currently capturing attention in his circle. He paid some 200,000 francs (the play was, after all, written in French) but even more importantly, he revels in the aesthetic pleasure of contemplating the piece.

He obviously wants his friends’ approval of his purchase, even seems to crave their envy. He’s upset when Marc, the first friend to see the canvas ridicules rather than raving about his purchase.

G. Smith is Marc and his rejection of the painting makes perfect sense, for Smith plays him as a no-nonsense practical man who doesn’t really understand how anyone could spend so much money on a painting unless, of course, it is a good investment. He can see neither artistic nor economic sense in his friend’s purchase.

Guy Palace as Yvan alternates between concern for the feelings of his friends who have placed him in the middle of the argument and his own problems in the outside world. He’s approaching his wedding day and is wound tight as one of the rubber bands he keeps twisting on his wrist. His outburst toward the end of the one-act play is one of the funnier speeches an actor could want and he makes the most of it while Smith and Henderson look on in frozen astonishment.

The Little Theatre of Alexandria has a history of substantial sets but the one that John Downing designed for this production is one of the most striking to grace their Wolfe Street stage in a long time. The all white walls, carpets and furniture against a black background create a real-world equivalent to the painting the trio debates. Downing places the entire structure within a gold picture frame, filling the entire proscenium of the theater’s wide stage.

“Art,” under the direction of Sue Pinkman, is a very enjoyable production that gives audiences lots of laughs while exploring a few important themes and introducing three intriguing characters.

Where & When

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Yasmina Reza’s “Art” runs through March 15 at 8 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sundays at 600 Wolfe St.. Tickets are $12 - $15. More information is available at www.thelittletheatre.com or by calling (703) 683-5778.

See page 18 for a story on the awards won by Little Theatre Productions at this year’s WATCH awards.