While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, appreciation of modern art may require more than what meets the eye. A $200,000 painting that is a large white rectangle causes a rift among three friends in “ART,” a Tony Award-winning comedic drama that opens Aug. 9 at American Stage in St. Petersburg. French playwright Yasmina Reza’s popular 1990s play explores our perceptions of art and friendship. The play was a hit in France in 1994 and won a Tony as best play in 1998. It has been playing somewhere ever since. “The themes are universal; we can all relate to the reactions of these characters,” says actor Gavin Hawk who plays Serge, a dermatologist and novice art collector who shells out nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a four-by-five-foot white canvas with some faint diagonal lines across it.
The purchase rocks Serge’s 15-year relationship with his close pals, Marc (Ricky Wayne) and Yvan (Brian Shea). Marc thinks Serge is a fool for paying so much for what he sees as a worthless rip-off. His disgust runs so deep that he is troubled by an “undefinable unease” that has gripped him. Meanwhile, Yvan, who has no convictions about the painting, tries to be the peacemaker but only faces the wrath of Serge and Marc as tempers flare, insults fly and the split widens. While the breakdown of the friendship is serious, the comedy comes from the characters and the clever dialogue that is biting at times, says Wayne. The Newsweek review of the original production of “ART” called it “an actor’s dream: a nonstop crossfire of crackling language, serious issues of life and art expressed in outbursts that sound like Don Rickles with a degree from the Sorbonne.” Hawk and Wayne compare the play to the “Seinfeld” TV series, in which the friends liked each other but also drove each other crazy. Hawk says he can understand Marc’s viewpoint because the character fears losing his friendship, fears change and appreciates classical art. Serge argues that modern art requires an intellectual understanding of what the artist is trying to say. Wayne and Hawk have worked together on stage as the improve team Hawk & Wayne (see www.face book.com/hawkandwayne). Last season, they had a monthly comedy show inspired by the syndicated newspaper series “News of the Weird.” They are fresh off performing at the Sarasota Improv Festival in July, and their new improv show, “It’s A Living,” opened Sunday at American Stage. It will continue on the first Sunday of each month at 6 p.m. Hawk also is an associate professor of theater at Eckerd College. Wayne has appeared in numerous independent films, as well as TV series such as “Army Wives,” “Burn Notice” and “The Glades.” Shea is well known in the Tampa area’s theater community, having appeared in numerous productions since he graduated from the University of South Florida in the 1990s. “ART” is being directed by American Stage veteran Todd Olson. During the run of the play, 24 pieces of art (sculpture, blown glass) from the Duncan McClellan Gallery in St. Petersburg will be part of the set design. Each piece is available for sale, with proceeds going to American Stage and the gallery’s educational program. ‘ART’ When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 8; check website for select Wednesday matinees and Tuesday and Sunday performances Where: American Stage, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg Tickets: $29 to $59 depending on performance; (727) 823-7529 and www.americanstage.org
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 8; check website for select Wednesday matinees and Tuesday and Sunday performances
Where: American Stage, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg
Tickets: $29 to $59 depending on performance; (727) 823-7529 and www.americanstage.org