That the inaugural production of Kaleidoscope Theatre’s second stage, K2: Another Twist in the Kaleidoscope, is of Yasmina Reza’s 1998 Tony Award-winning best play “Art” is not lost on those paying attention.
This new, alternative stage’s mission is to present “a series of edgier, thought-provoking theatrical experiences” in conjunction with the mainstage’s “more ‘mainstream’ ” offerings. Reza’s play – an 80-minute, one-act pontification about a man’s acquisition of a $200,000 white canvas and two friends who provoke his justification – is exactly the conversation to kick off such a venture: What is art? And why should we care?
It’s a question as proverbial as they come. Reza’s dialogue, originally written in French and translated by Christopher Hampton, is quick, fiery and full of vigor. There’s anger surrounding this piece, a 5-by-4 canvas painted with white paint, diagonal lines cutting through the 90 degrees. At a distance, it’s a blank canvas. From an abstractionist’s perspective, or an owner’s, it’s a beautiful piece about absence, the suffocation of joy, the sterility of the art world, the journey of man.
It’s still an expensive white canvas. And it’s still art. And it still bothers people.
This production is a wise programming choice for Kaleidoscope, whose offerings over the last 11 years have kept mostly to the matinée sensibility: Neil Simon romps in Manhattan, romantic trysts on golf courses, off-Broadway revues. It ventured into the K2 voice – before K2 even existed – sporadically, with David Auburn’s “Proof” and Sam Shepherd’s “True West,” though this begs a more important question: Which art is worthy of mainstream, mainstage audiences?
I have to assume director Melissa Leventhal approached these ideas with her cast. She handles Reza’s text with care and a modicum of precision, and she understands the existentialism she’s been tasked with making accessible.
Christopher Andreana plays Serge, the unapologetic owner of this self-righteous painting. Andreana comes to Serge’s defensiveness easily, without much care for his friends’ disapproval. He makes reasonable points about the value, both in his home and in his wallet. But his confidence in Serge’s shoes wavers when we see Andreana start to lose his stance. He often appears unsure of how to just be in his space.
Matthew Mooney is Marc, the intellectual who just doesn’t get it. He’s the academic one of this threesome, the one who references mythological contexts to make his point clearer and clearer: that this is a bogus definition of art as consumerism. Mooney is suited for such a role and does a fine job of tearing up the joint while sticking to Marc’s guns. But he, too, has some blocking concerns – Leventhal’s department, to be fair – where he is perhaps too physical when he could stand to be more restrained.
Tim Stuff has a most difficult task of not only playing the neutral Yvan, but also of replacing another actor in the role only two weeks before opening, according to a recent post-show talkback. Stuff has his things together, getting angrier and angrier in each scene, and generating enough audience commiseration for anyone to realize that we are allowed to hate all three men.
We can’t judge them for what they think or feel about this piece of art; Reza isn’t asking us to have an opinion on the canvas, either. She’s using her stage to remind us that art is not on a wall, it is in our consciousness. Whatever it does to us, there it belongs, on one stage or another.
Where: Medaille College Lecture Hall Theatre, 18 Agassiz Circle
When: Through Feb. 20
The Lowdown: 479-1587, www.kaleidoscopebuffalo.com.