A crisis in the platonic relationship between three cultured men is the subject of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s 1994 Tony and Olivier-winning comedy, “Art.” Theatre Coup D’etat’s crackling revival of Christopher Hampton’s translation now plays at the Muse Event Center in the Minneapolis Warehouse District (formerly the Trocaderos nightclub) in the Club Room. In this intimate setting the audience can sit on sofas or chairs and get a drink from the bar.
“Art’s” conflict centers on an abstract painting purchased for $200,000 by Serge (Elohim Pena). His friend, Marc (Lucas James Vonesek), has traditional ideas on what art should be and harshly criticizes the painting and the amount Serge spent on it. Serge responds in kind with declarations that Marc is a “nostalgia merchant” and “an enemy of modernism.”
When their non-confrontational pal Yvan (Kevin Fanshaw) drops in on Serge, he seems puzzled by what the painting represents but holds back on outright criticism of it. The painting is white with streaks of off-white over that. Yvan also is caught in the middle of a disagreement between his fiancée and his mother about wedding invitations, which the other friends use as evidence of Yvan’s supposedly spineless personality.
James Napoleon Stone has scrupulously directed the numerous interchanges wherein each character uses language to pummel one or both of the others. Reza’s hallmark trait is that she writes and sustains characters at heightened emotional pitches. This challenges actors and these three are remarkable in that they still find multiple colors within the high pitches and dynamic pace.
Pena, Vonesek, and Fanshaw master Reza’s heady dialogue with scorching wit while revealing the unexpected depth of feeling coming from the wounding power of words. The argument about the painting triggers a schism where regrettable and irrevocable words are spoken with vicious intent.
Reza’s script obviously stands on the shoulders of Edward Albee where blunt truth telling becomes bloodsport. Theatre Coup D’etat plays the game with aggressive glee. Adam Scarpello’s fight choreography benefits that.
John Townsend is a Minneapolis writer.