Art of Friendship @ Theatre Above the Law

3 Stars out of 4

Yasmina Reza’s very French play Art will soon be an artifact of a different time, when Friendship was something luxuriated in, meditated upon, argued about and engaged in.  Christopher Hampton’s English translation of the play, now on view in the tiny, and in this particular case almost claustrophobic, Rogers Park storefront where the Theatre Above the Law makes its home, is a microscopic look at the fragile bonds of connection between humans.  The taught drama pulls you in to a dysfunctional triangle reminiscent of a Sam Shephard play. 

The plot is European more than Silicon Valley: a young professional Serge (Jeremy Schaye as a sophisticate) has purchased an expensive and  highly collectible painting by an artist featured in a major modern museum.  His pal Marc (Brittany Vogel  as an engineer) is astounded and insults the painting.  Their mutual friend Yvan (Dan Sauer at his richly comic best), in the middle of planning a challenging wedding, is caught between the two and tries to make both happy.  The tiny theatre puts the audience almost in the middle of the conflict as social masks fall and the bonds between longtime comrades are tested. There are issues with this script: 200,000 francs, the price paid for the white on white painting in the French version, does not translate to $200,000—in today’s money its probably about $65,000(they are Euros now so it’s a rough calculation)—which changes the argument about buying it quite a bit, and alters the class of the protagonists.  If Serge really could get $200,000 together for a painting, then that puts him leagues above stationary store employee Yvan.  As Americans, I don’t know if the class warfare inherent in this plot is as apparent, but I sense that it is a source of the tension that may or may not be addressed.  Director Tony Lawry has made the choice of casting a female presenting actor as a decidedly male and macho Marc bringing all kinds of questions into the room that are not necessarily part of the 1990’s original.  The major aspect that makes this a period piece though is the complete lack of the internet.  In the 90’s people actually met each other and discussed things: today this demographic communicates via text and it has decidedly changed the nature of human relationships which makes this play intriguing.

Art is about why we relate to others, what brings us together and what tears us apart.  The ensemble attacks these questions with craft and passion. It is not an uplifting commentary on who we are/were as people, on how status and life mark and move us, but it is a true one. In this KonMarie era it is also an indictment of how possessing can supercede connecting.

Art is playing weekends through March 3, at 1439 West Jarvis in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, For more information  and tickets go to https://www.theatreatl.org/ or call 1 773 655 7197