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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 65.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Paper
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When paintings attack
A friendship is wrecked by Art
on
Collectors beware.
Collectors beware.

The thought-provoking Art by Yasmina Reza won a Tony for best original play in 1998. The show examines the effect that an expensive piece of monochromatic contemporary art has on the tenuous bonds among a trio of friends. Strollers Theatre performs it on the Bartell Theatre's small Evjue stage, which has been simply but convincingly turned into a Parisian apartment. Miranda McClenaghan's sharp direction, good blocking and snappy pacing add up to an entertaining production.

When wealthy dermatologist Serge (Paul Milisch) pays $200,000 for an all-white painting, it gets under the skin of Marc (Colin Woolston), his close friend who feels that the painting is completely absurd and that Serge's admiration for it signals a new smugness and elitism. Marc goes from annoyed to outraged. Caught in the middle is a third friend, Yvan (Donavon Armbruster). Acting as a mediator between the two while navigating his tense wedding plans is almost more than he can take. After a tussle, the friendships teeter on the precipice of disaster.

The painting leads to many discussions: Is it art? Does it validate and define the collector? If your friend hates it knowing you love it, what does that say about him? Does he love you less? Festering old wounds and petty irritations surface, as well as shifts in status and control among the three characters. It's rare and refreshing to hear men talking like this in an intimate setting.

The three actors do a fine job with their demanding roles and the cerebral and witty dialogue. But Milisch is my favorite, despite the fact that Woolston and Armbruster have the flashier roles. His quiet and nuanced performance is spot on.

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