With a production of Yasmina Reza's 1998 Tony Award-winning play Art, Bay Theatre Company marks its fourth success in as many shows.
Reza's Art is a well-written comedy documenting contemporary life that is brilliantly presented by a gifted trio of professional actors under an excellent director. This thought-provoking comedy succeeds by evoking laughter while leading the audience to confront the value of contemporary art and its ability to alter long-standing friendships.
Set in contemporary Paris, Art is about three male friends whose relationship is altered when one of them - dermatologist Serge - buys an expensive all-white painting by a trendy artist. Serge's purchase engenders the anger of his old friend and mentor Marc, an aeronautical engineer whose pronounced preference for classic art forces him to deplore anything trendy. Their rift is exacerbated by the neutral attitude of third friend Yvan, a businessman so beset by complications surrounding his impending marriage that he is unable to deal with his friends' mounting rancor.
Bay Theatre's production features a minimalist set that converts to each character's apartment using doors that fold from one side to another. In keeping with artist Antrois' all-white painting, the neutral set is a tabula rasa where each character projects his personality.
Director Steven Carpenter has assembled a fine cast that is convincing as upper-middle class, image-conscious Parisians concerned with how they perceive art and how they are perceived by each other in their evolving friendships. These actors define what ensemble acting is all about.
Jim Chance brings us a multidimensional Serge, who initially conveys a disarming openness in his eagerness to share the joy of his newly acquired painting with Marc. We meet Serge when he invites Marc to his apartment to view his expensive painting. In this opening scene, Chance perfectly conveys both Serge's eagerness to please and his underlying vulnerability. Later, Chance offers an increasingly comic portrayal of Serge's mounting frustration and anger at Marc's negative reaction.
Carter Jahncke's Marc is equally well-defined - his first look at Antrois' painting is a gem, as Jahncke expresses surprise, confusion, then utter disdain for the work to evoke mounting laughter from the audience. Jahncke excels at portraying the conservative who cannot tolerate being challenged by art, especially when it means he will no longer be Serge's mentor.
Cast in the demanding role of neutral Yvan, actor Christopher Poverman seems to inhabit his character. Conveying Yvan's need for the tranquil haven of their friendship, he tries to patch up Marc's quarrel with Serge to preserve their relationship during his own impending marriage. Eager to be their friend, Poverman's "Yvan the joker" gushes, teases, cajoles, frets, laughs and cries.
In his second scene, Poverman releases a torrent of emotion to express Yvan's difficulties with his relatives' warring over his wedding plans. Yvan's eagerness to please his two friends eventually causes them to physically attack him.
More than a comedy, Art forces audience members to examine their own attitudes toward art, and to discover what a vital role art plays in their lives. They learn that attitudes toward art reflect how they see each other and themselves. And they learn that by dismissing a work of art as inconsequential, they may be telling more about themselves than they would want revealed.
"Art" continues at Bay Theatre's new home at 275 West St., Annapolis, through Feb. 28 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., and Sunday shows at 3 p.m. Seats may be reserved by calling 410-268-1333 or by e-mail at reserve@baytheatre. org.