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Marc, Serge, and Yvan are friends. They are three middle-aged men of comfortable means who have stayed friends with each other for fifteen years. Since men of their age often lack opportunities to meet new people and sustain new friendships, their courtesy towards and their tolerance for one another's quirks and affinities have been worn raw.
At the opening of the play, Serge is smitten with his acquisition of a new painting. It is a modern art piece (white on white) for which he paid two hundred thousand dollars. Marc can't believe that his friend bought a white on white painting for such an extravagant amount of money.
Marc could not care less about modern art. He believes that people ought to have a few more standards when it comes to determining what is good “art” and therefore worthy of two grand.
Yvan gets caught in the middle of Marc and Serge's arguments. He does not find the painting or the fact that Serge spent so much to acquire it as offensive as Marc does, but he doesn't adore the piece as much as Serge does. Yvan has his own real-life problems. He is planning a wedding with a fiancé turned “bridezilla” and a host of selfish and unreasonable relatives. Yvan tries to turn towards his friends for support only to be ridiculed by both Marc and Serge for not having a strong opinion in their war over the white on white painting.
The play culminates in a confrontation among the three strong personalities. They throw every personal choice that the others disagree with and look down on into each other's faces. A piece of art, a visual and external representation of inner values and beauty, causes Marc, Yvan, and Serge to question themselves and their relationships to the core.
At his wit's end, Serge hands Marc a felt tip pen and dares him to draw over his white on white, two hundred thousand dollars, adored, a piece of art. How far will Marc go to prove that he truly doesn't believe that this painting is actually art?
- Setting: The main rooms of three different flats. Only a change in the painting above the mantle determines whether the flat belongs to Marc, Yvan, or Serge.
- Time: The present
- Cast Size: This play can accommodate 3 male actors.
- Marc: Marc is a strongly opinionated man when it comes to what he values and an extremely condescending one towards what he does not value at all. Other people's feelings do not factor into his decisions or filter the manner in which he talks to them and about them. Only his girlfriend and her homeopathic remedies for stress seem to have any sway over his strong and acerbic personality. On his wall above his mantel hangs a figurative painting that is described as “pseudo-Flemish” of a view of Carcassonne.
- Serge: Serge, according to Marc, has recently taken a dive into the world of Modern Art and has fallen head over heels with a newfound respect for it. Modern Art speaks to something within him that makes sense and which he finds beautiful. Serge has recently gone through a divorce and has a dim view of marriage and anyone searching to make a commitment to another person. His rules for life, friendship, and art went out the window with his marriage and now he has found peace in the realm of Modern Art where the old rules are thrown out and acceptance and instinct govern what is valuable.
- Yvan: Yvan is less high strung than his two friends about art, but he has his own issues in life and love that make him just as neurotic as Marc and Serge are. He begins the play stressed about his upcoming wedding and looking for a little support. He finds none. Although the physical production of art on canvas means less to him than it does to the others, he is more in tune with the psychological responses and reasonings behind such responses than either Marc or Serge are. That aspect of his personality is what thrusts him into being the middleman in this fight between friends and why he gets belittled by both of them. He actually cares more about their feelings and well-being than they do for him or each other. The painting above the mantel in his flat is described as “some daub.” The audience finds out later Yvan's is the artist.
Art is light on technical requirements for production. Production notes specify the need for only a single set of a man's flat, “as stripped down and neutral as possible.” The only object that should change between scenes is the painting. Serge's flat has the white on white canvas, Marc's has the view of Carcassonne, and for Yvan, the painting is the “daub.”
Occasionally the actors deliver asides to the audience. Marc, Serge, or Yvan take turns stepping out of the action and addressing the audience directly. Lighting changes during these asides will help the audience understand the break in the action.
No costume changes are needed and there are few props required for this production. The playwright wants the audience to focus on the art, the friendships, and the questions the play brings up.
Art was written in French for a French audience by playwright Yasmina Reza. It has been translated many times and produced in many countries since its debut in 1996. Art was performed on Broadway at the Royale Theater in 1998 for a run of 600 shows. It starred Alan Alda as Marc, Victor Garber as Serge, and Alfred Molina as Yvan.
- Content Issues: Language
Dramatists Play Service holds the production rights for Art (translated by Christopher Hampton). Inquiries for producing the play may be made through the website.