‘Art’ overemphasizes comedy, could get by with less yelling

Born and Raised Productions/RagTag Entertainment’s "Art" is the third mounting Vegas has seen of this 1996 play, and it’s by far the funniest. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Yasmina Reza’s script (translated by Christopher Hampton) is a surprisingly moving look at the changing stages of longtime friendship. It has an improbable premise that well serves the play’s themes: A man buys a painting for an enormous amount of money, and his two closest friends are astounded to learn that the artwork is merely a white canvas.

At first, the play seems a one-note joke, but as Reza buries deeper, we come to understand why this purchase is threatening a 15-year bond. It’s a very insightful script, rich in uncanny observations about human behavior.

Director Joe Hynes, though, has made a basic mistake: He overemphasizes the comedy. We may enjoy the funny lines, but we don’t much care about these men. The situation demands that we see these characters as "normal," flawed people who undergo major changes.

Erik Amblad, for example, is playing an eccentric, confrontation-hating wimp. He exaggerates his looniness to the point where he becomes a sketch. Amblad doesn’t internalize anything; he shoves it down your throat. He has a terrific scene near the end when he begins to weep uncontrollably; it’s the only time I didn’t believe he was carefully going for an effect. He’s very talented; he just needs a strong director to tone him down.

Dave Surratt as a cynic who’s always ready with a hurtful wisecrack has a problem opposite Amblad’s: He overstates by underacting. He talks quietly in a consistent monotone, as if this is what he thinks a "natural" performance sounds like. He doesn’t project anything; he’s barely there.

Geo Nikols as the man who purchases the "painting" is the one actor who makes the humor feel organic. You never catch him going for effect. But by the final third, I was so tired of all the poorly modulated arguing that I found myself wishing the three gentlemen would hurry up and part ways. The evening could use less yelling and more anger.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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