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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

White or Off White?

Chamber Theatre explores the meaning of art

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What really constitutes “art”?  Market value?  Personal perception? The opinion of experts? Or are all these factors just in the eye of the beholder and the beholden?

These and other questions are raised in the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Art. Few are answered. The story hinges on the purchase of an all white painting (with a few white lines added in) for $200,000, and playwright Yasmina Reza uses this framework for a deeper discussion about the true meaning and priceless value of friendship among three men—Serge, Marc and Yvan. And these friendships are sorely tested within the biting 90-minute back-and-forth dialogue and monologues (no intermission). The blank canvas becomes more of a verbal battering ram as the trio turns on one another over unresolved grievances and past failures.

Serge (C. Michael Wright) is a successful dermatologist and the cultured “culprit” who has bought the painting, which he considers “off white.”  Marc (Brian Mani) is offended by how much his friend has spent on something he considers a piece of you-know-what. And then there’s Yvan (Tom Klubertanz) who’s more concerned and upset over his upcoming nuptials and trying to please everybody, including his two feuding friends.

Director Tyler Marchant has kept this play about big ideas moving and engaging—despite some of the playwright’s wordy dialogue—and keeps a deft balance between the inherent humor and underlying seriousness. Wright’s intense, incisive performance as Serge keeps us guessing as to where his loyalties lie while Mani deftly peels back the layers to Marc’s intellectual bravado, revealing his true vulnerable spirit.

Kudos to Klubertanz, whose neurotic, manic energy fuels Yvan and this production. He gives the audience a needed jolt when the word play gets wooden and wearisome. The trio work together, set against each other just enough like a puzzle that’s been pulled apart and put back together too many times. Keith Pitts’ cool contemporary set design of Serge’s Mondrian-like Paris apartment is its own canvas for Jason Fassl’s primary color-based lighting flourishes. And the all-white or off-white painting?  What you see is what you consider “art.”

Art runs through Aug. 25 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For more information, call 414-291-7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com