ST. PETERSBURG — ART, now playing at American Stage Theatre Company, has been described as a "slender" play, referring both to its running time just under 90 minutes and its lack of a traditional plot.
Both are true: It's a short play without intermission and not much happens during that time except a lot of sparring between three old friends. So its success depends of the quality of the dialogue and the chemistry between the three actors delivering the lines.
Gavin Hawk, Brian Shea and Ricky Wayne, under the direction of Todd Olson and Michael Edwards, are all equal to the witty, often hilarious lines delivered at crackling speed or with well-timed pauses that delve into their unraveling friendship. Slender ART may be, but lightweight it isn't.
The hook on which the play hangs is a white painting purchased for $200,000 by Serge (Hawk), a divorced dermatologist. Marc (Wayne), a married aeronautical engineer, is aghast and angry over the acquisition, believing it to be an expensive joke. Yvan (Shea), a paper salesman about to be married, is a mild-mannered mediator whose opinion tends to change with the company.
You might well wonder, as Yvan does, why Marc takes the acquisition so personally. As Yvan says, "If it makes him happy...." But Marc will not be mollified, and his criticism escalates to the level of spiteful and personal vitriol that eventually includes Yvan.
It should surprise no one that the white paint covers deeper issues: the rift between Marc, who has been the "cool guy" and mentor but who feels Serge is moving on, and Serge, who wants to assert some independence from Marc. And Yvan, who is tired of being considered the buffoon whom the other two can insult at will. In today's parlance, it's bromance gone south.
Wayne's Marc has some of the best lines and delivers them with nuanced gestures and facial expressions. He makes popping homeopathic pills an art form. I also had some sympathy for him because Hawk's Serge is a condescending, overly suave snob. And for his irritation with Yvan, who is beleaguered and spineless until he rips into a scenery-chewing monologue in the last third of the play. But Marc tries our patience, too, though he is self-aware enough to understand that his behavior is irrational.
It also should surprise no one that the three work things out but (no spoiler) the way they do is artful and sweet. Marc has the first and last words of ART, and they are near perfect.
I questioned at first the set, which is dominated by colorful pieces of studio glass (for sale, by the way) that seemed anomalous to Serge's white painting. But it subtly plays into Marc's utter bafflement because it shows us visually that Serge had previously collected art that was accessible and suddenly comes home with something completely different.
Jerid Fox's design with sleek furniture in a loft-like setting is appropriately evocative of IKEA and Megan Byrne's lighting provides the transitions between characters' points of view. Adrin Erra Puente makes good use of clothes as personality descriptions: Serge's suits and well-ironed dress shirts, the studied off-handedness of Marc's academia separates, and Yvan's bedraggled and rumpled pants that never quite fit.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.