“Art,” a Tony Award-winning play written by Yasmina Reza that originally opened in London’s West End in 1966, is finding a new home in Ithaca.
The Readers’ Theater will mount a production of the play Feb. 18. “Art” features three old friends — Serge, Marc and Yvan — who question their bonds after Serge buys an expensive piece of art, which is a simple white canvas.
Director Anne Marie Cummings, who founded The Readers’ Theater, said the play is about what happens when opinions go too far. She said that Reza is a brilliant playwright and she chose to direct “Art” because she found the writing clever.
“You just don’t find too many well-written plays — she is a spectacular playwright,” she said. “When I read it I just found myself laughing throughout. I was enjoying and having a really great time, and I was curious with where it was going to go and what was going to happen.”
Cummings said the actors will have their scripts in their hands throughout the performance. She made this change from the original show to focus on the actual words, the character development and the bonds between the characters, she said.
“We really don’t focus on props,” Cummings said. “Although we will be using the painting, we really tried to focus on the written word. We try to focus on the acting and the character development, and we focus on the connection between the characters.”
The bonds between these characters are strained over the argument of whether the canvas is art. Frank Robinson, former director of Cornell University’s Herbert Johnson Museum of Art, will give a 15-minute lecture at the end of each performance entitled, “What is Art?” He said there isn’t one set definition for art because it means something different to everyone.
“It’s up to every person. In a way, I hate the word art.” Robinson said.
He said the play calls attention to the different ideas people can have about what should be considered art. While Serge sees something as art, his friends don’t see past the conventional meaning, Robinson said.
“With every definition for art, you can find an exception,” he said.
Tony Simione, who plays Serge, said he enjoys the writing in the play because it shows each character’s different point of view.
“Every character is like a puzzle, and you have to figure out how to present a character in a realistic way and sort of figure out who this person is based just on what they say.”
In the play, Serge faces opposition from his friend Marc over his newly acquired painting. Simione said the production shows that how you navigate a friendship as you grow and change as a person can cause you to lose or gain friends.
“Yasmina gets it down to the nitty-gritty and they have every conversation,” he said. “These characters are so different that it’s really quite funny, but at the same time there are a lot of really poignant moments.”