“How would you feel about your best friend if she suddenly did something so colossally stupid, it made you doubt the very basis of the friendship?” This is the question asked in the play Art by Yasmina Reza. That simple question takes off like a bottle rocket – zig-zagging back and forth and taking us off into the sky before returning to earth and reality checks. Attacks by friends that are quick to injure and slow on remorse felt like a visit to Facebook and discussions or vile comments about our current president from lovers and haters. I thought, “Wow, where is this play headed?”
Yasmina Reza also wrote God of Carnage, which has been successful in both London and New York. Both plays were written in French and translated into English.
It felt like old home week as we stepped into the lobby of Theater on the Square. Theater on the Square was the showcase of Tacoma Actors Guild. Peg and I had been members since the early days at St. Leo’s on South Yakima. We had tickets for Sunday afternoons. We attended the play with Peg’s sisters Pat and Marie, their mom Rita, and a family friend Bobbie. We would watch the play and then adjourn to Bimbo’s Italian Restaurant in downtown Tacoma, where we discussed the production and caught up on life. It was a nice combination of theater, family, and life.
My wife Peg and I introduced our children to the theater at TAG as well as our first grandchild. I was a board member in the early 1990s. We saw both the rise and the fall of TAG. Since the demise of TAG, however there has been a resurgence of theater arts in Tacoma and Pierce County. What’s really nice about the theater scene is the camaraderie and assistance of theaters working together.
Joining Peg and me was my cousin Lavinia Hart, fresh off a flight from Detroit. Lavinia, named after my mother, is my cousin. She grew up in Tacoma and Puyallup. She graduated from Central Washington and was part of Empty Space Theatre in Seattle. Later she moved to Detroit where she was the managing, artistic director of the Attic Theater for twenty years. She was named the Michiganian of the Year and for the last ten years has been teaching drama and directing at Wayne State University. Now, she is in the process of returning to the Tacoma area and we are thrilled. Lavinia and I grew up almost like sister and brother. Our mom’s were identical twins.
I knew nothing about the play, while Peg had seen it and reviewed it for the Tacoma Weekly some time ago. Lavinia had never seen the play, but had seen numerous renditions of the content as actors auditioned with various pieces. Neither thought of Art as a great vehicle. All three of us were in for an excellent and thoughtful production.
Art lover, Serge (Eric Clausell) buys a painting with a white background and a white foreground . . . with white highlights. The painting did not come cheaply. Serge shares the painting with his friend Marc (Joshua Knudson), who has a tantrum and questions Serge’s sanity and intelligence. Soon their other close friend Yvan (David Fischer) is sucked into the fray.
Yvan is having his own problems with his mother, a step mother, and his fiancé. Quiet listening is just a judgmental look and comment away from rebuke.
The stage features a nice, sparse living room in safe colors against a dark blue back ground with rectangular images of contrasting blues, which could be art. As the scenes change to the apartments of the friends, a painting or window lowers into the set to show the similarities of the three friends.
You can almost feel the vortex sucking the friends all down, and down, and down. But, you can tell that these guys like each other and will hopefully rebound. You have to have faith.
I didn’t recognize Eric Clausell, but I had seen or actually heard him as Audrey II in Lakewood Playhouse’s production of Little Shop of Horrors last year. Seeing him in person only irritated me that I had not seen him in the one-man performance of Thurgood at the Broadway Center. He seemed well cast as Serge in Art, but the more I think about it, I believe each of the actors involved in Art could have switched parts and still done a fantastic job.
Joshua Knudson has not only been a professional actor and a member of Actors Equity, but he also acts as the Vice Chancellor for Advancement at the University of Washington – Tacoma. Knudson has served as a member of the Tacoma Urban League board of directors and on several committees of the University of Washington. He researched and published The Oregon Shakespeare Festival: A History and an Analysis of a Growth Oriented Model for Institutional Advancement.
David Fischer is a long time friend. I’ve known David since he was the 1990s guiding light of Tacoma Little Theatre. I was vastly disappointed when he was hired away to California and then overjoyed when he was brought back to Tacoma to run the Broadway Center. I had only seen David act in one play before, so was astounded at his performance as Yvan. I got a kick out of his little dance step on stage as well. We infrequently meet for a burger and a beer at the Parkway Tavern.
Peg, Lavinia and I were singing the praises of the show and the performers all the way home. Art runs through May 19th. The play is a thoughtful delight that delivers humor and empathy in equal amounts. The professional artistry of the cast and the designers is a welcome and refreshing experience. We look forward to more productions at Theater on the Square. For more information and ticket: tacomaartslive.org/