Critical Conundrum

Art for arts sake

yasmina reza's art resonates on several levels. It's about class and the perceptions of class. It's about having the courage—or stupidity—to speak cold, hard, uncomfortable truths while damning the emotional consequences. Mostly, though, it's about how we often personalize the art objects we like to such an extreme that when someone's tastes don't jibe with our own, it feels as if they're pissing on our shoes.

Art unfolds in the lofts of three close friends: Serge (Sean Cox), Marc (Vince Campbell) and Yvan (Sean Naughton). Serge has just plopped down a cool 200 thou on a painting by some hoity-toity artist named Antrios. But "the Antrios," as Serge reverently calls it, is an Ad Reinhardt-style, all-white, modern painting with a few generic white lines thrown in for detail. Serge's purchase completely baffles Marc, who can understand neither the expense nor the artwork. Marc gets pretty huffy about it, too, but he's the kind of anal guy who'll pick through a bowl of identical olives before he finds one good enough to nibble.

Caught in the middle is tensed-out Yvan, who's about to marry into a family he can't stand and who, much to Marc's annoyance, actually likes the damn painting. The debate over the artwork devolves into an argument over Who's Got Good Taste, with Marc and Serge taking out their rage on poor Yvan, who eventually morphs into the living embodiment of the Antrios—just another object to be overly analyzed and picked apart.

That blurring of humanity and culture also pops up when Marc decides Serge has basically replaced their friendship with his new hard-on for the Antrios. Marc's not just fearful of that potential loss—he's also upset by the fact that Serge is off buying expensive paintings Marc couldn't possibly afford, proof that Serge is graduating to a new class status he'll never be able to join.

The three characters are keen archetypes: art freak Serge represents art makers in general; Marc is the critical, persnickety gatekeeper of taste; Yvan represents the public, that great, faceless body over whose soul artists and critics are eternally warring. This Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. cast portrays them all admirably: Cox does a convincing job with Serge, so in wide-eyed lust with his Antrios that if the canvas had a hole, Serge would stick his pecker through it (giving new meaning to the term "art-lover"). Naughton's Yvan is a squirmy neurotic, crowned by a wild five-minute rant halfway through the play that deserved the spontaneous outburst of applause he received opening night. Campbell's Marc, meanwhile, comes off like the uncaring, insensitive, dickheaded jerk he needs to, the one all culture critics—theater, music and otherwise—will identify with.

Art at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Thurs., April 25, 8 p.m. Through April 28. $12-$15.

 
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