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‘Art’ entertains at Mountain Playhouse |

‘Art’ entertains at Mountain Playhouse

| Friday, September 7, 2001 12:00 a.m

It’s been a half-dozen years since ‘Art’ made its debut in London. But as Yasmina Reza’s play has made a stately progress from London’s West End to Broadway to national tour and now to regional and community theaters, it has managed to retain its freshness and immediacy.

‘Art’ made its regional debut Wednesday at Mountain Playhouse, an Equity summer theater. Before the month is out, it’s scheduled to make two additional appearances with openings at two semi-professional summer operations – Sept. 18 at Red Barn Theater in Hampton and Sept. 27 at Little Lake Theatre in Peters Township.

Part of the reason ‘Art’ retains its freshness is that it’s a thoughtful exploration of a topic that hasn’t been discussed to death – male friendships. Serge pays 200,000 francs (roughly $27,084) for a 4-foot-by-5-foot painting by Antrios, a fictional artist not unlike Robert Ryman. The painting’s stark minimalist white canvas is relieved only by some faint white diagonal lines. His purchase confounds, offends and outrages his friend Marc. ‘I can’t love the Serge who’s capable of buying that painting,’ Marc complains.

When Marc looks for support from their mutual friend, the easygoing Yvan, he’s let down by Yvan’s acceptance of Serge’s purchase. The painting becomes the thin wedge that cracks open the questioning and examination of this 15-year friendship.

Aside from the pleasure of imagining men who would pay big bucks for a work of art that doesn’t feature the likenesses of Kordell Stewart or Willie Stargell, the play provides the amusement of listening to these high strung, but highly verbal and intelligent guys talk openly, if intellectually about the inner workings of male-to-male friendships in specific and friendships in general. What binds us to each other• How does the hierarchy of relationships maintain a balance over time•

More importantly though, this production succeeds because of a cast of seasoned area actors familiar to Mountain Playhouse regulars who mine the humor and the pathos in the script. While there’s much to keep an audience laughing through this 80-minute intermissionless piece, it’s not a comedy per se. Reza digs below glib, surface questions and answers for responses that are more meaningful and rewarding.

As Serge, who sets things in motion with his purchase, Douglas Rees is articulate, sensitive, thoughtful and assertive in his choices – as a character and as an actor. Nick Ruggeri’s feisty Marc might be a shade too quick tempered, but ultimately he’s wonderfully expressive in vocalizing his dismay as well as his indignation. As the mild-mannered Yvan, Tom Schaller enlivens the bland characterization with bursts of passionate expression. An occasional line reminds you that you these guys are French, not American or English. But the actors themselves make it clear throughout that these are three completely straight guys who think it’s perfectly normal to care intensely about art, ideas and each other.

Director Guy Stroman keeps the wheels turning with cinematic staging. He moves the action seamlessly back and forth from sharply focused closeup monologues to the more realistic action of the play.

With the exception of one unforgivably out-of-place and ugly black leather arm chair, scenic designer Robert D. Sims and properties manager Gina Beiswenger provide a properly stark, post-modern, crisply angled mauve setting with pleasant touches of acid green. Properly individual paintings personalize the one-living-space-fits-all environment for visits to each of the three men’s apartments.

A notice at Mountain Playhouse reminds its patrons that ‘Art’ contains some words not usually heard on its stage. But at its strongest, the epithets are milder than much that cable listeners have become accustomed to.

The Mountain Playhouse production of ‘Art’ continues through Sept. 16. Performances: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Mountain Playhouse, Route 985 just north of U.S. Route 30, Jennerstown. Tickets: $13 to $22; $6 for teen-agers on Wednesdays. Details: (814) 629-9201.

Alice T. Carter can be reached at (412) 320-7808 or .

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