Fine ‘Art’ coming to Heritage Playhouse

It’s just a painting, one that shows almost nothing. But, oh my, what it reveals. 

The painting is the centrepiece in Art, a play about three middle-aged male friends in present-day Paris. The shifting ground of opinions they share about this newly acquired, very obscure and rather expensive artwork drives characters Serge, Marc and Yvan to depths of emotional truth that none of them anticipate. However, the audience might sense the ensuing drama, given that the first opinion we hear is from Marc, who looks at the painting and says flatly, “It’s shit.” 

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The 90-minute, one-act work, by French writer and actress Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, has been widely produced internationally, after opening at the Royale Theater on Broadway in 1988. It was a huge success there, running for 600 performances and winning a Tony Award that year for Best Play. 

Now it’s in production here on the Sunshine Coast, set to run at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons for 11 performances, from Oct. 5 to 21, thanks largely to a unique fundraising-investment collaboration between the Sechelt and Gibsons Rotary clubs. 

Art stars veteran local actors Richard Austin as Serge, Larry Musser as Marc, and in his first-ever stage performance, Norm Blair as Yvan. It’s being produced by Lynn Grossutti and directed by Sally Williams. 

“Basically, they’re a culture club of three,” Williams said of the characters, following a recent rehearsal. “One wants to dominate, one will always comply, one wants to defect.” 

UK-trained Austin said he saw Art in London in 2000 and ever since, had hoped one day either to act in it or direct a production. 

“It’s just the three people and a very simple set,” Austin said. “It’s a play about men, written by a woman – that appealed to me. And getting a woman to direct it seemed like a good idea.” 

Musser, whose nearly 40 years of credits include multiple appearances on TV’s The Outer Limits and The X-Files, was awestruck after reading Art for the first time. 

“There was no way not to do it once I’d seen those words. This is a phenomenally written play and all I want is to do these words some justice,” Musser said. 

Blair has long wanted to act and leapt at this opportunity. He also played a big role, offstage, in making this production possible. 

“I went into Rotary and said, ‘Can you get involved and help seed a production,’” Blair recounted. “And they said, ‘Sure, we’ll put some money in the bank and we’ll get the process started.’” 

Blair said he knows Rotary will distribute any of its profits back into the community, but he hopes “they put it into performing arts.” 

As for his role in Art, you might never guess Blair is a stage newbie. He handles the pivotal role of Yvan with the raw intensity of a seasoned performer. 

The play contains adult language. Tickets are $25 at Laedeli Gifts and Cards, Wilson Creek Shell station, and Sechelt Visitor Centre.

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