Opinions on art, like politics, are best left unsaid in social settings, I have learned. I try to avoid scenarios in which I must face the seemingly innocuous but potentially explosive question from a collector showing off a beloved work who asks, "What do you think?" • That's the set-up for ART, a production at American Stage of the 1998 Tony award winning play by Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, which is in previews today and begins a run that continues through Sept. 8.
It's essentially a comedy of manners in which three friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan, sorely test their relationships with each other over the course of 90 minutes as they bicker and banter. The catalyst is a white painting recently purchased for a lot of money by Serge. Marc's very vocal loathing of it begins the on-going argument between those two men, and Ivan enters the fray as a self-appointed mediator. The play, which has no intermission, is organized around the shifts in perspective among the three men.
"They each see something different in the painting," said Todd Olson, the theater's artistic director and the co-director of ART, in a recent phone interview. "Lines, color, nothing. Three different people seeing three different things."
Unlike previous stagings, in which the sets were mostly devoid of color, American Stage's will feature bright, dramatic tropes in the form of 24 art glass objects selected by studio glass meister Duncan McClellan. They include the work of McClellan and eight other glass artists. Almost all will be for sale online or at the box office with proceeds shared by the theater and McClellan's DMG School Project, which provides educational opportunities to artists and students. In addition, a limited number of $50 tickets for an opportunity drawing for another McClellan vessel will be available.
"Duncan is a friend of the theater and we thought it would be great to incorporate real art into the set," Olson said. "We got the idea for selling it after we staged Doubt, in which we had paintings that looked like stained glass on the set and people called, wanting to buy them. We sold them all. So that's how this idea came about."
ART plays in a repertory-like rotation with My Name Is Asher Lev, another play centered on art and how it is valued.
"They have similar themes, but they're completely different genres," Olson said. The set change-out takes only about 25 minutes, even including moving all that glass on and off the stage.
"They're glued down," said Jerid Fox, scenic designer and property manager.
Fox also was charged with creating that controversial white painting, which probably won't be part of the auction. He wanted it to have some texture so he used a flat latex applied with heavy brush strokes as an undercoat, then finished it with an acrylic painted with striations.
"I'm not a fine art painter," he said. "I'm a scenic painter (for sets), which is totally different. My partner is the painter. It was a little like I was Serge and he was Marc when I was making it."
After the play's run, Fox said, it would not be hanging on one of their walls at home.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.