In 1994, French playwright Yasmina Reza penned an examination of male friendships and the world of art. Winning a Moliere award, it went on to be translated by Christopher Hampton for a London West End production starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, and Ken Stott. A critical success, it was natural that it would wend its way to Broadway still produced by the team of Sean Connery and David Pugh. In the American version, its cast included Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina, all heavyweight character actors. Winning a Tony, it went on for 800 performances. Fortunately for Los Angeles audiences, the Broadway cast came to the Dolittle, allowing the opportunity to judge its merits as presented.
International City Theater in Long Beach has opened its 36th season with a virtual performance helmed by Brent Schindele, Michael Uribes, and Brian Stanton. Using a multi-screen backdrop against a modern apartment, it allows for the audience to get up close and personal with the three men.
Serge (Schindele) has bought a 5 by 4, all-white painting for $200,000 by Antrios, a well-received artist in the world of modern art. He is eager to share it with his friend Marc (Uribes). Reeling from the news that Serge paid that amount for what ostensibly looks like a blank canvas with some faint white lines, he laughs and scoffs, leading to the conflict between the men that opens a dialogue about the nature of art and, ultimately, friendship.
Into this mix comes Yvan (Stanton), a mild-mannered member of the trio of long-standing friends who tries to act as a buffer between the two, but whose own life’s relationships are in turmoil because of his impending wedding. As the rhetoric escalates and insults are hurled at each other, the engagement for the audience is to see how these friendships can survive.
Schindele plays the perfect affluent modernist, proud of his newest acquisition and eager to show that he is a serious collector. The scorn and cynicism exhibited by Uribes is equally successful as he portrays the maverick outsider, much too wise to be duped into buying this expensive con. While both have moments that are engaging, it is Stanton whose part provides the pure fun of the piece. A monologue mid-play where he details the shambles of his wedding plans and life in general is worth the price of the ticket—which is incidentally $30 per household, a bargain in the world of theater.
Deftly directed by caryn desai (sic), she uses the multi-screen close-ups to go beyond what can be seen on stage. There are times when the actors break the fourth wall and deliver asides, almost seeming to lean into the virtual world.
While the play itself has a brittle touch and may be a little too pat, it is fun to examine the world of male friendships and the awkwardness it engenders. While women are more used to introspection and emotional openness, it is engaging to see how these men navigate their relationships. Sometimes profane, often heated, and ultimately threatening, at play’s end Reza finds a unrealistic but satisfying ending to resolve the situation. For an audience, it provides clever dialogue and a chance to watch good actors execute their craft.