Review: Art – Bluma Appel Theatre

By Dana Lacey

Colin Mocherie by Cylla von Tiedemann

My room mates and friends are artists, my neighbours run an art gallery, and I’m around art a lot. But me, well, I’m not an artist, or even a dabbler–call me an appreciative outsider. So when I read the sell lines for The Canadian Stage Company’s production of Art–something about defining “art”–I almost passed on the play. Yet another exploration of the shit-or-art debate? No thanks.

But in the end, I was lured by star power (albeit of the dimly-lit-Canadian variety) of Colin Mochrie, who stars as art connoisseur Serge. In my youth, I spent many an afternoon enjoying the comedian’s Whose Line antics, and I felt like I owed him one.

I’m glad I went.

After a slow start, Art finds a good pace and kept my friend and I enthralled throughout. The story: Serge has just spent a sizable nest egg on a painting by a renowned contemporary artist. It’s a 5 by 4 foot canvas with a white background, painted with diagonal white lines that may or may not have the slightest hint of red. Of course, to the unenlightened eye–a.k.a Serge’s friend Mark–the canvas is simply blank. Mark snarks at the purchase, trying to goad Serge and their mutual friend Evan into admitting that the painting is, simply put, a piece of shit.

Turns out this isn’t a play about the meaning of art, but of art appreciation. It was also about cynicism, which, love it or loathe it, is one of my personal specialties. Without preaching, Art attacks the dismissive. Who is the snob? The choosy art expert or the one who thinks the art expert is a snob?

Mark–played with brilliant bite by Peter Donaldson–can’t understand how Serge could put himself in debt for the white wonder, but starts to doubt his own cynicism. Mochrie is a convincing nouveaux riche critic, and he delivers his impressive brand of physical comedy with perfect timing. Yvan, ever the umpire, tries to mend the rift between the long-time friends while fighting offscreen with a frantic fiancée (which accumulates to the best explosion of exasperated storytelling I’ve ever seen, compliments of actor Evan Buliung). What ensues is sharply funny yet uneasily wise dialogue as the trio consider deconstruction, the ties that bind and whether its okay to laugh when your friend buys a piece of shit. Go check it out.

Photo by Cylla von Tiedmann


Art runs until April 10th, 2010, at Canadian Stage’Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front Street East, Toronto.

Showtimes: Mon to Sat at 8 p.m., matinees Wed 1:30 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and up. PWYC Mondays (if purchased in person).

Tickets are available in person, by phone (416.368.3110), or online.

10 thoughts on “Review: Art – Bluma Appel Theatre”

  1. Your review says it all! I was also initially sold on the play once I found out that Colin Mocherie was in it.
    Although it did get off to a slow start, I really enjoyed the unexpected twists and how multi-media was interpreted in the production. Yvan’s breakdown scene was one of the highlights.

  2. I passed on it because I saw it years ago and wasn’t enthralled. Your review makes me want to give it another chance. Maybe next Monday.

  3. … observations in this review struck me as true as well: the action is a bit slow at first, the acting is strong, and the play is about something more than art. the play does touch on art appreciation and cynicism, and … may i take it one step further? friendship. this is a play about friendship, that pivots around a painting. what makes it all the more remarkable is that the playwright yasmina reza confronts a pervasive — but language elusive — aspect of masculine relationships: the leader / follower dynamic that can develop within a friendship, and how the biggest disruption in a male-male (or any) friendship can be when one person no longer wants to follow, and yet has no secure place to establish a personal identity. … in “art” reza spends an un-interrupted forty-minutes scene to explore this type of violent shift in a relationship, and her language is clear and direct, and that’s what — i agree with you — makes “art” enthralling. there’s a dreadful honesty to the confrontation that seems inevitable and there comes to be a point where every moment of it is terribly destructive to a friendship that had lasted for years …

  4. I completely agree with you Adam. That 40-minute scene was great. I was really taken with Mark’s story about the first time he realized his friendship with Serge was on the rocks–when, after turning his nose to some piece of art, Serge asks him “Who do you think you are?” and all Mark can think is “You’re my friend, you’re supposed to think I’m special.”

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