Classical play 'Art' to be staged in Beijing

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In the play of Art, French middle class man Serge spent 100,000 euros ($110,000) on a painting with nothing more than a blank white canvas and caused a stir among his friends. [Photo provided to]

French playwright Yasmina Reza's Tony award-winning comedy Art has been a worldwide hit for the past 20 years. As one of the most successful theatrical productions of the 21st century, it has taken over $250 million at the global box office. Now, Beijing stage lovers will have the opportunity to watch the classical hit - played in English, with Chinese subtitles - at the Penghao Theater, in Beijing's hutong area, from May 11 to 14.

The storyline of the play follows the friendship of three middle-aged, middle class French men, Serge, Marc and Yvan, whose friendship deteriorates due to Serge's exorbitant spending, after buying a 100,000 euros ($110,000) painting, which was nothing more than a blank white canvas.

The painting prompted quarrels among the trio and challenged their friendship, which turned out to be quite fragile.

Art is originally a French-language play, premiered in 1994. It opened in London in 1996 in Christopher Hampton's translation and gained international fame afterwards.

The Yasmina Reza play resonated with a large amount of audience members across the globe, as a result of a series of unresolved questions about the value of modern art. The play also explored the connection between taste and friendship, and the complicated and ever-changing nature of friendship.

Director and actor Gregory Joseph Allen signed on to direct Art as soon as he read the script.

"The brilliance of the play is in the magnificently crafted dialogue. It's both highly nuanced, and efficiently structured. No word is wasted, and no motivation left unexplored," Allen said during an interview with China Daily.

"It is a brilliant look into the complicated and ever changing nature of long lasting friendships, which is both thought-provoking and hilarious....If we, as a creative team, live up to the potential of the source material, it should make for a wonderful evening of theater for both the artist and audience," he said.

Allen plays Marc in Art, a role which is a "brutally honest advocate for all things that he believes to be true and right." Because of this, Marc bluntly spitted out his opinion and negative view on Serge's expensive art piece. Their friend Yvan, played by Carlos Ottery, attempted to calm down the two "without much success."

Carlos Ottery, a writer and actor of Beijing comedy This is Sanlitun, has hoped to put on Art in Beijing for years.

"I was supposed to be in a production of Art five years ago, but it fell through," he said.

"On the surface, the play is very much about that old question, 'what is art?' But I actually think it is more about friendship. There are certain really seriously nasty things you can say to a close long-term friend that you wouldn't dream of saying to someone you have just known for a year or two...The play really gets to the nub of that as much as it says anything about contemporary art."

Samuel Kamanguza, a Beijing-based actor, is interested in the emperor's new clothes aspect off the script and how something as simple as a painting can devastate a once warm friendship.

"I love how the playwright has used an inanimate object to move and bring to life the issue affecting these three friends, and perhaps shape the boundaries of their friendship," he said.

The play, produced by May Group International, used the English translation of Art by Christopher Hampton, and will be staged with Chinese subtitles for the convenience of Chinese audience members in Beijing.

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