It's always difficult for me to remember that Yasmina Reza's play "Art" is a comedy. It's always seemed as I looked back on it that it's a drama about friendship. So the current staging at St. Louis Actors Studio felt fresh to me.
Director Wayne Solomon has given us a particularly emphatic version of this show, which is a clear reminder that no one, no matter how competent and functional they are to the public, isn't completely that way to the people closest to them. The play takes place in Paris, and the only reminder that it isn't freshly minted is that the price of a contemporary painting, Serge, a dermatologist, is 200,000 francs. (The Euro is now more than 20 years old.) His friend, Marc, is horrified by this for reasons that aren't quite clear. Their pal Yvon, the third one of the group, wavers back and forth in the feud and has plenty of woes of his own.
Marc, John Pierson, kicks things off with a calm, explanatory monologue. He's smooth and reasonable and certainly isn't leading us down the primrose path. Drew Battles, a newcomer to St. Louis stages, plays Serge, enthusiastic about his purchase but wary about Marc's not-unexpected reaction. The two play off each other carefully, perfectly, naturally. Yvon arrives a little late with a tale of woe. He's Larry Dell, who has successfully resisted the urge to turn Yvon into a Woody Allen clone - listen carefully to his lines and you'll see what I mean. The interplay among the guys is like clockwork.
Christie Johnson's set manages to be three different apartments with a simple screen that clearly clues us in. Dalton Robison's light design, with Carla Landis Evans on the light board, is an important part of this 90-minute multiple-segment piece of work.
The play was originally written in French and performed in Paris. Reza gives considerable credit to her translator, Christopher Hampton. He says he does both English and American versions of her plays, but that English and American audiences tend to laugh more at performances than French ones. (Hampton also says that it was Sean Connery who originally bought the rights to produce the play in English. Who would have thought?)
And, yes, it's very funny. It's not until it's almost over that one is forced to think about meaning, but that's what stays with one for a while. Worthwhile on a couple of different levels.
St. Louis Actors' Studio
The Gaslight Theater
through May 3