“Art” debuts at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse

Serge buys a painting, but is it “Art”?

“Art,” with, l-r, Joel Bryant as Marc, Patrick Vest as Yvan, and Cylan Brown as Serge. Photo by Alysa Brennan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and no one understands this more than the cast of “Art” which begins its debut at The Hermosa Beach Playhouse Friday night.

“I think it is really poignant in this time, where ideas are attacked and we are attacking people so personally, especially across the aisle,” said Patrick Vest, one of the three characters in the play. “The discussion has become so heated that it becomes personal and we are no longer talking about ideas, rather it is personal attacks. I think that gets mixed up in this play – and in that sense is very vital to today.”

“Art,” a Tony Award-winning play written by Yasmina Reza (author of the recent Broadway hit “God of Carnage”) and translated by Christopher Hampton, is a comedy based on male friendship. Directed by Stephanie Coltrin, the play stars three prominent faces in the South Bay theatrical scene: Patrick Vest, Joel Bryant and Cylan Brown.

When Serge (Brown) buys a very expensive all-white painting, he shows it to his friend Marc (Bryant) expecting excitement and admiration for the art, but Marc is dumfounded by his purchase. Yvan (Vest), a third friend, is pulled into the predicament, and a discussion around what is art initially forms. The discussion gets heated when the three men discover major problems within their friendship; holes are discovered, conflicts arise and their relationship almost falls apart.

“It is about this exploration of what this piece of art does to inform their relationship,” Coltrin said.

The same ensemble that was under her direction in “Moonlight and Magnolias” reunites on the set of “Art.”

“It is a real blessing to be working with people you know really well and who you are friends with,” Vest said.

“We had chemistry from the start and there wasn’t that weird feeling-out process the first week,” Bryant added. “We know each other’s processes, strengths and weaknesses.”

“They are all just truly great artists,” Coltrin pointed out.

But for Vest the play has touched him on a more personal level and the process has shaken him to the foundation. His character is caught in the middle of a crumbling friendship and becomes the butt of jokes between his two friends, yet he tries to be conciliatory throughout the discussion.

“All this stuff has really been working on my psyche,” Vest said. “It is a fabulous play, just a great piece of theater.”

“Art” has a little of everything rolled into one; comedy, seriousness, character study and friendship. So when Coltrin, who is also affiliated with the Civic Light Opera of the South Bay Cities (CLOSBC) first saw it over 12 years ago, she was eager to showcase it in the South Bay.

“I thought the timing was right and I think it is a nice title for our audience to see, something a little different,” Coltrin said about its premiere at The Hermosa Beach Playhouse. “It’s just great.”

The play is neither divided into scenes or acts but rather follows a sequence of sections (1-17). Most of the play consists of dialogues between two characters, parts of “Art” address the audience through monologues, and one section is a conversation among all three actors. And throughout the sections, the all-white piece of art is a focal point as it hangs from a wall in Serge’s flat.

“It is a show with a lot of meat, which is nice,” Brown said. “People who do take some sort of interest in art, interest in aesthetics and an interest in culture – there is a lot in the show for them. But it’s really a great show in the sense that that’s not all that is discussed; there’s a lot about relationships, a lot about friendship and a lot of subtle humor built into it. It is neat in the sense that it’s discussing art and relationships on many different levels.”

We will learn throughout “Art” that no matter what one person thinks is aesthetically beautiful or oddly horrific, art is seen differently through the eye of the beholder. But on a lighter note, some opinions are better left unsaid.

Art opens Friday at 8 p.m. in the Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach (at Pacific Coast Hwy). Tickets, $35 to $45. Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., this Sunday at 7 p.m., with Sunday matinees this Sunday and May 29 at 2 p.m. Show closes May 29 with the last Sunday matinee. (310)372-4477 or go to hermosabeachplayhouse.com. ER

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