Sunday, August 17, 2014


Playwright:  Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton
Company:  Springs Ensemble Theatre
VenueSprings Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre Street, Colorado Springs CO, 80909.
Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 16, 2014
A single word describes Yasmina Reza's cultural/relationship drama.  The title Art  is a metaphor for the minimalist style of abstract paintings, but instead of a solid "color field", Reza gives us a simple, single "word field" that tells us everything we need to know about the play.  
Can a four by five foot canvas, with only a simple, white color field, really be art?  Can there be a message or meaning in what appears to be a blank canvas? 
Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionist, thought so, at least if the color field is Red. Serge (Emory John Collinson) agrees.
Untitled (Red).  Mark Rothko, (1956).
Serge is a dermatologist who has just purchased a blank, white, abstract "masterpiece" for 200,000 French francs, the equivalent of about $40,000 US dollars at the time the play was written.  He shows the white canvas to his friend Marc (Aaron Jennejahn), who immediately deems it a "piece of white shit."  The ensuing scenes follow the conflict, first about whether a white canvas can be art, but ultimately about whether friendships can survive conflicts  over artistic values.
Reza's script is at turns funny, profound, and highly emotional.  Art is about ideas, relationships, and conflict.  It is provocative.  It is weighty.  It is complicated.  And it is as richly rewarding for its point about abstract art as it is for its point about friendships.
Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) brings Art to life on a tiny stage with black leather furniture.  In the black box of the room, the white canvas is underscored by the straight, clean lines of the black chair and love seat.  Director/Scenic Designer Sarah Shaver gives us a set that immediately reinforces the white color field theme of the script.  
Cast, L-R:  Emory John Collinson (Serge), Matt Racliffe (Yvan), Aaron Jennejahn (Marc).
Emory John Collinson as Serge is appealing but pompous; he considers himself superior to those like Marc who don't appreciate modernism.  Collinson skillfully shows us Serge with a super sized ego, eager to criticize others for what are arguably his own worst faults.  He considers Marc to be smug and arrogant; perhaps Serge has no mirrors in his apartment.  Collinson's performance is filled with intriguing facial gestures that punctuate his lines.
Aaron Jennejahn is marvelous as Marc, matching Collinson's self-righteous pomposity at every turn.  Jennejahn is a perfect foil for Serge, challenging his world view and his sincerity with relentless retorts.
Matt Radcliffe (Yvan) is the peacemaker for Serge and Marc, although trying to make that peace is a fool's errand.  Rather than resolving problems between Serge and Marc, Yvan becomes the target of their anger.  Radcliffe is wonderful; he brings a sense of both innocence and impotence to the conflict.  When he becomes agitated, Radcliffe is at the top of his game.  His anger, his confusion, his frustration, and his impatience all boil over.  After all his attempts to resolve the conflict, he finally takes Marc's side about the white canvas.  Radcliffe's conversion from arbitrator to advocate is priceless.
If I have any quibble with Art, it's that the French terms used in the script were passable, but not very authentic.  A dialect coach for the actors would have been a wise addition to the crew.
SET has put together a fine production of an excellent script.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it until near the end of the run.  It's too late to buy a ticket, but that doesn't change my recommendation.  Art is an engaging, provocative, and immensely rewarding experience; I highly recommend it, even though that recommendation is too late.
This show is suitable for teens and up.  That said, though, the subject matter may not appeal to younger teens.  The concepts and relationship issues are beyond the life experiences of some adults; younger teens may not relate well to the subjects. 
SET has ample parking; if the lot is full at the front of the theater, there is an empty school parking lot across the street.  There are no restaurants or bars in the area, so plan accordingly.
This show closes on August 17, 2014. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Since there are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the theater, we stopped by the Colorado Mountain Brewery (CMB), 1110 Interquest Parkway, Colorado Springs.  CMB was recently visited by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who announced that "Meatloaf Wellington has taken over Colorado!!"  I can't confirm that; nobody at our table ordered the meatloaf.  
It's about a 15 minute drive from the CMB to the theater, depending on traffic and weather.  CMB has ample patio dining, with a marvelous view of the front range and the Air Force Academy (AFA).  Try the pulled pork sandwich (yummy).  One of the local brews, 7258 Blond Ale, is named for the altitude at the AFA.  According to our waitress, the CMB founders were affiliated with the AFA...thus the location of the restaurant and the name "7258" Blonde Ale.

Photo CreditsSprings Ensemble Theater, Jess Weaver

Director:  Sarah S. Shaver
Scenic Design:  Sarah S. Shaver
Lighting Design/Stage Manager:  Jenny Maloney
Sound Design:  David Plambeck
Fight Choreographer:  Max Ferguson
Costume Design:  Emory John Collinson

Serge:  Emory John Collinson
Yvan:  Matt Radcliffe
Marc:  Aaron Jennejahn

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