|Written by||Yasmina Reza|
|Date premiered||28 October 1994|
|Place premiered||Comédie des Champs-Élysées, Paris|
|Setting||The Paris apartments of Serge, Marc, and Yvan|
'Art' is a French-language play by Yasmina Reza that premiered on 28 October 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The English-language adaptation, translated by Christopher Hampton, opened in London's West End on 15 October 1996, starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott, produced by David Pugh and Sean Connery, running for eight years.
'Art' played on Broadway in New York from February 12, 1998 to August 8, 1999, again produced by Pugh and Connery, plus Joan Cullman. The March 1, 1998 opening-night cast featured Alan Alda (Marc), Victor Garber (Serge), and Alfred Molina (Yvan), who was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance. 'Art' won the Tony for Best Play and went on to a 600-performance run. Replacement actors included Judd Hirsch, Joe Morton, George Wendt, Buck Henry, George Segal, and Wayne Knight.
The comedy, which raises questions about art and friendship, concerns three long-time friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan. Serge, indulging his penchant for modern art, buys a large, expensive, completely white painting. Marc is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain as a result of their differing opinions about what constitutes "art". Yvan, caught in the middle of the conflict, tries to please and mollify both of them.
The play is not divided into acts and scenes in the traditional manner, but it does nevertheless fall into sections (numbered 1–17 by Pigeat). Some of these are dialogues between two characters, several are monologues where one of the characters addresses the audience directly, and one is a conversation among all three. At the beginning and end of the play, and for most of the scenes set in Serge's flat, the large white painting is on prominent display.
Set in Paris, the story revolves around three friends—Serge, Marc and Yvan—who find their previously solid 15-year friendship on shaky ground when Serge buys an expensive painting. The canvas is white, with a few white lines.
Serge is proud of his 200,000 franc acquisition, fully expecting the approval of his friends.
Marc scornfully describes it as "a piece of white shit", but is it the painting that offends him, or the uncharacteristic independence of thought that the purchase reveals in Serge?
For the insecure Yvan, burdened by the problems of his impending doom (wedding) where he is stuck in an insoluble problem and his dissatisfaction at his job as a stationery salesman, their friendship is his sanctuary, but his attempts at peace-making backfire. Eager to please he laughs about the painting with Marc but tells Serge he likes it. Pulled into the disagreement, his vacillations fuel the blazing row.
Lines are drawn and they square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendship.
Awards and nominations
- Spring 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy
- April 1998 Molière Award for Best Commercial Production
- May 1998 New York Drama Critics' Circle – Best Play
- June 1998 Tony Award for Best Play
- November 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy
- 1998 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
- Reza, Yasmina (1994). Art (in French). Arles: Actes sud. ISBN 2-86943-410-3.
- Reza, Yasmina; Hampton, Christopher (1996). 'Art'. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-19014-6.
- Andersson, Benny; Ulvaeus, Bjorn; and Craymer, Judy (2006), "Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You? - The Inside Story of Mamma Mia and the Songs of ABBA", Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, p. 151.
- Pigeat, Aurélien (2005). Art (in French). Paris: Hatier. ISBN 2-218-75089-9.