College of Southern Nevada’s "Art" is only 70 minutes long, but those 70 minutes go on for days.
Yasmina Reza’s 1998 Tony-winning play (translated by Christopher Hampton) is a fast-moving, curious comedy (sort of) that deals with an irresistible situation: A man has paid $200,000 for what he thinks is a brilliant modern painting, when it’s actually a mere white canvas. From this exaggerated premise, we get a realistic look at the challenges of diplomacy, personal vision and long-term friendship. This is so much more than a one-joke script.
Director Rhonda Carlson makes a basic mistake: She has the three actors perform as if saying the line with expression is all that matters. How can we follow the progress and regressions of a 15-year friendship when the friends are not real people? You don’t for a second believe that these men have hung out most of their adult lives. The trio confront one another a lot, which can be fine in a skilled production because Reza writes clever, intriguing confrontations. But here, it’s all petty, soap-opera bickering, and you can’t wait to get away.
It doesn’t help that the actors have been given little guidance when it comes to modulation. All that one-note yelling makes "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" seem a genteel Tupperware party.
The actors are too aware of where the laughs are. When Kiha Akui as Yvan, the most sensitive character of the three, weeps, he exaggerates his tears as if to tell the audience, "This is funny." He’s missing out on what could be a poignant moment.
There’s no set designer credited, only a set consultant (how can you have a set consultant when you have no set designer?), and the generic, arbitrary selected stage items suggest the director doesn’t appreciate what a physical environment specialist could have brought to the table. CSN has had many marvelous detailed sets in that space, but this one is anemic. (Did Carlson just give up?)
Happily, Karen McKenney (from the Rainbow Company) supplies some smart but casual threads that quietly tell us plenty about those who wear them.
It’s probably best, though, that we simply forget this unfortunate "Art" while CSN attempts to forge on to better things.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: College of Southern Nevada’s BackStage Theatre, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave.
Tickets: $10-$12 (651-5483; csn.edu/pac)