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Stellar acting, compelling themes make for a work of 'Art'

Tony Awards

Dignity Players' current production of "Art" is a near-flawless effort — a must-see work for everyone who values friendship and realizes what art contributes to life.

Yasmina Reza's 1998 Tony Award-winning play depicts how our perception of and reaction to art can test friendships and opinions, yet shows how we can learn from one another in confrontational situations.

Dignity's production raises the standard of excellence for acting in local theater, as three actors portray characters who are confident, threatened and pacifistic.

Reza's work is a well-crafted, thought-provoking comedy, compelling audiences to confront the value of contemporary art and its ability to alter relationships.

Set in contemporary Paris, "Art" is about three male friends whose relationships change when one of them, Serge, buys an expensive, all-white painting by a trendy artist. The artwork confuses Serge's old friend and mentor, Marc, who reacts angrily to this nontraditional minimalist work.

Another friend, however — soon-to-be-wed businessman Yvan — is open to this artwork's subtleties. But he has another problem: Beset by complications surrounding his impending marriage, Yvan is unable to deal with his friends' mounting conflict.

Director Darice Clewell has assembled a phenomenal trio of actors to interpret Reza's tantalizing dialogue and bring these characters to life. Clewell also understands how art sets the tone of the interplay between friends, and uses it to bring out the characters' inherent differences.

Like the artwork itself, Dignity's production also features a minimalist set. Designed by Laurie Nolan, it uses paintings and accessories to distinguish characters' apartments.. Lighting by Shirley Panek enhances this concept.

Actor Kevin Wallace plays Serge — conveying a man straddling societies, seeking acceptance of his newfound art knowledge while longing for his trusted friend, Marc, to admire his refined taste.Wallace's skilled timing also enhances his comic barb.

Tom Newbrough brings dynamic energy to Marc. Newbrough's laughter, in fact, is so contagious that the audience explodes with every outburst.

Newbrough's Marc is a multidimensional conservative character, so comfortable with traditional art that he is threatened by this minimalist work and infuriated when he realizes Serge's independent thinking might signal the end of his role as his mentor. As Marc gets angrier, the play gets funnier. .

Cast in perhaps the most demanding role of Yvan, Jim Gallagher inhabits a character conflicted by his own mounting problems and longing for the tranquillity of his friendship with Marc and Serge.

Yvan tries to patch up his friends' differences, an effort that only serves to infuriate Marc and annoy Serge — resulting in physical confrontation.

The actions bring us to a rare theatrical moment: Gallagher delivers a stunning monologue that describes Yvan's own life crisis. The mounting wedding pressures have created a man so overwhelmed that he's teetering on hysteria. Gallagher's monologue performance sets a new standard on this stage, and perhaps poses a challenge to other community theater groups.

"Art" is a human comedy that encourages audience members to examine their own attitudes toward art and its role in our lives.

Above all, the play suggests that understanding among friends, no matter how elusive, is to be sought and valued.

The 90-minute performance — with no intermission — continues weekends through Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. at Dignity Players, located at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis off Bestgate Road. Call 410-266-8044, ext. 127, or go to dignitiyplayers.org for tickets.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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