Art: From a Blank Canvas Springs a Multi-Hued, Multi-Layered Delight
Art is, on the surface, the story of a trio of friends who are forced to re-evaluate their beliefs, their actions, and the very foundation of their friendship, precipitated by one character’s purchase of a white-on-white painting. But despite the monochromatic nature of the catalyst, the play is one imbued with rich hues of colour and texture, thanks to a combination of flawless performances, and deft direction and lighting.
The stage itself is minimalist by design. The three actors interact on a starkly adorned set: a couple of grey couches, a pair of movable drops (which are manipulated by the actors with skill and alacrity to mark location transitions), and a black and white Piet Mondrian-styled background. But the stage is filled by the performances and verbal dexterity of all three actors.
Simply put, Art — and, in particular the performances of Kalileh, Smith, and Spencer-Davis — is a masterclass in timing and reaction. The actors fully embrace and embody their roles, their cadence is natural and believable, and the interlocking and overlapping dialogue moments are a pleasure to experience. No one actor stands out from the other, with all three combining to produce a far stronger whole — though Smith’s hilarious soliloquy was intense, dynamic, hilarious, and greatly appreciated by the crowd.
The story addresses the nature of friendship through and examination of the nature of how we interact. How much truth is too much? And, in many cases, do we even have our own truths or are we simply adorning guises to appear to be something we want to be?
There is a wonderful undercurrent that pits the pretentiousness of art — and those who profess to appreciate it — with those who prefer a more visceral view of the arts. Kalileh’s Serge argues that one must be properly educated and exposed to appreciate art, choosing to undervalue the opinions of those who don’t meet his arbitrary threshold. Conversely, Spencer-Davis’ Marc rails against the pretentiousness of such a proposition — suggesting that arbitrary designations are nothing more than excuses to allow adherents to justify their appreciation of what is essentially false idolatry. And in the middle is Smith’s Yvan, who is cast in the role of a peacemaker — one who has hampered his ability to form his own frame of reference.
Williams’ direction is superlative in this production. Again, for a play centred around a plain white-on-white piece of art, the director is able to fill the stage with textures and visual depth. The actors’ pacing and blocking makes the maximum use of the stage and prevents the actors and the minimalist set design from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of space.
The production’s lighting is also something to behold. The production makes effective use of asides, dimming the majority of the stage whilst shining a spotlight on the speaker. These moments of honest introspection fuel the underlying honesty of the production whilst allowing the on-stage social dance to continue. The audience is privy to the absurdity of the duality of message and the social relevancy of those behaviours are embraced and understood.
When it comes to honesty, how much is too much? Fittingly, given the impetus of the play, it concludes with a little white lie designed to salvage a friendship. But the audience is left to question whether that’s the right decision in the long run — though it’s one we’ve all likely undertaken in our own relationships.
Art is an absolutely enjoyable 80-minute romp filled with entertaining wordplay, humour, and incredibly gifted performances by the three leads. There’s nothing monochromatic about this production — it’s a rich and textured social commentary that’s well worth your time.