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Posts Tagged ‘yasmina reza’

Art
by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Wayne Salomon
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
April 17, 2015

Drew Battles, Larry Dell, John Pierson Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Actors' Studio

Drew Battles, Larry Dell, John Pierson
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

How subjective is beauty? What about the value of art? What happens when longtime friends disagree on these issues, and how does this conflict affect the friendship? These are several of the issues brought up in Yasmina Reza’s Art, which is currently onstage at St. Louis Actors’ Studio.  As is usual for STLAS, this is a memorable production, bringing together a very strong cast and production values to tell this emotionally charged comedy.

The story here is introduced by Marc (John Pierson), a curmudgeonly sort of guy who has something of a distrust for the modern, especially modern art. He’s highly skeptical, even personally offended, when his friend Serge (Drew Battles) purchases a ridiculously expensive painting by a famous artist. The problem is that the painting is white, as in it’s all white, although Serge insists there is more to it than that.  Also on the scene is their more ingratiating friend Yvan (Larry Dell), who tells each friend what he wants to hear and just wants everyone to get along. In the midst of this initial conflict, the play also injects issues of friendship jealousy and criticism of the friends’ relationships with the women in their lives, including Yvan’s upcoming wedding and the family conflicts it causes. Although the main argument is between Marc and Serge, the dynamic of all three men’s relationships with one another provides the tension of the play, and much of its comedy, as these guys argue about everything from the nature of great art to the value and importance of friendship itself.

This is a play in which there isn’t much of a plot, particularly. It’s the relationships that make the story, and therefore it requires strong actors to maintain the energy and carry the show. There are three very different men here, so it requires strong ensemble chemistry to make their relationships believable. Fortunately, the cast here is uniformly excellent, working together well and portaying a convincing combative friendship. Pierson as the gruff, contrary Marc spars well with Battles as the pretentious and nervous Serge, with both actors displaying a strong sense of presence. Dell as the harried, people-pleasing Yvan, who becomes something of a combination referee and punching bag for his two more assertive friends, gives a particularly winning performance, as well.

Technically, this production is strong as I’ve come to expect from STLAS, with one notable exception. On opening night, there was a sudden power outage toward the end of the play that stopped the show for a few minutes, although it was well-covered by the cast. Aside from that, everything else is impressive, most notably the set by Cristie Johnston, which recreates an upscale city apartment with rich detail. The costumes by Teresa Doggett appropriately suited the characters. Dalton Robison’s lighting and Wayne Salomon’s sound design also contributed well to the atmosphere of the production.

Aside from a little too much departure from the action in which the characters break the fourth wall and directly address the audience, this is a thought-provoking and highly entertaining play.  STLAS has brought together a strong cast and crew to close out their season well. There are many interesting issues dealt with here, but the real story is the relationships, and those are convincing and compelling.  It’s a work of art worth the investment.

John Pierson, Drew Battles Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Actors' Studio

John Pierson, Drew Battles
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

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God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 5, 2015

Sarajane Alverson, Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick, MIchelle Hand Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick, MIchelle Hand
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Children have been getting into playground fights for generations, although lately it’s been more common–and newsworthy–for the parents to get involved.  God of Carnage, the latest offering from Stray Dog Theatre, depicts a meeting of two sets of parents concerning their children’s squabble that threatens to turn into an all-out brawl itself.  Delving into the rawest of human emotions and peeling away the veneer of politeness that most adults try their best to maintain, this play is an exploration of some of the baser aspects of human nature as well as a grand showcase for an excellent cast of local actors.

The story starts straighforwardly enough, with two sets of parents meeting to discuss what to do about a recent fight involving their sons. The meeting takes place in the well-appointed, middle class Brooklyn home of Veronica (Sarajane Alverson) and Michael (Michael Juncal), whose young son, Henry, has been hit in the face with a stick, splitting his lip and breaking two teeth. The perpetrator is Benjamin, son of Annette (Michelle Hand) and Alan (Stephen Peirick), and the two sets of parents are all politeness, at first.  Throughout the course of the evening, the true nature of these people is revealed and the dynamics shift back and forth. They break out the snacks, and later the coffee, and eventually the booze, and their true feelings emerge as a result. In addition to their sons’ altercation, subjects discussed, bantered and argued about include lawyer Alan’s addiction to his cell phone, Veronica’s need to control the situation, Annette’s suppressed but surfacing anxiety, and Michael’s concern for his ailing mother and distrust of Alan.  It’s a full-length one-act with no intermission, and the dark comedy with hints of drama builds as these four people jockey for position and drop all pretense as they struggle to work out more issues than just their children’s fight, with a conclusion that provides just as many questions as it does answers.

This is a play with no “leads” or “supporting” parts, as all four characters share equal importance, and the cast assembled here is excellent. Hand, as Annette, is clearly the standout, with her repressed, nervous portrayal exploding into a fitful, stream-of-consciousness one-woman tirade.  With excellent use of physicality and perfect comic timing, Hand infuses the production with a vibrant, nervous energy.  Alverson as the controlling, pretentious Veronica also turns in a memorable performance, displaying a sharp wit and excellent chemistry with the rest of the cast. Peirick, as the workaholic Alan, is also strong in an emotionally charged performance, and Juncal’s Michael is effectively defensive and combative. In a play with so many shifting character dynamics, ensemble chemistry is essential, and for the most part, this ensemble manages to maintain the fast pace and explosive tension of the play.

The visual design of the play is striking, with an excellent, detailed set by Rob Lippert, with its middle-class modern furniture and well-appointed tables and shelves full of books, knickknacks and booze. There are also well-suited, character appropriate costumes by director Gary F. Bell, whose staging is dynamic and uses the whole stage to great effect.   The technical aspects of this play, as usual for Stray Dog, continue to impress in terms of making the most of a relatively small performance space, and adding to the overall atmosphere of the performance.

This isn’t a particularly “pretty” depiction of parental strife and concern, although its continual changes and reversals, and shifting alliances lend to the overall dark and tension-building tone of the comedy, suggesting a sense of uncontrolled chaos about the lives of seemingly every day, “normal” (whatever that word means) parents.  It’s a play about expectations and judgments, both internal and external, and a reminder that people are often more complex, and more self-focused, than they may initially seem.  It’s a bit of an indictment and deconstruction of the modern concept of parenting–both the overprotective and the neglectful.  There’s a lot of challenging material here, but it’s mostly painted with a broad comic brush. At Stray Dog Theatre, God of Carnage is a revealing, energetic and memorable evening of theatre.

Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal, Stephen Perick Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal, Stephen Perick
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

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