Reading ‘ART’ by Yasmina Reza

There’s more to reading a play than meets the eye. When an actor reads one, he constantly looks for hints for building character. I look for little pictures in the words, for scenic interpretations to pop off the page.

Two friends came over the other day to read ‘ART’ by Yasmina Reza, and one picture presented itself in a humorous and dramatic way. The play is about three friends and a white painting that one has purchased for a small fortune. It’s a totally white painting. The words used to describe the piece by one of the friends are “resonance” and “system.” Another simply pronounces it “shit.” The playwright allows the characters the full range of reactions to what is essentially empty.

In any event, the whole situation is comical, and the way each character confronts this expensive void is telling. Their treatment of each other is what fills the picture. It’s what the artist really intended us to see. The culmination of which is a bit of physical confrontation resulting in one man’s ear being hit. He collapses in agony and holds a compress to his injury when what should appear but a rat.

A rat dashes through the room.

And isn’t that just like life? Just when we are brought to the utmost end of our tolerance, just when we strike out against our lack, just at the edge of our control, something small invades us. Here sits a man in pain inflicted on him by accident since the blow was meant for another, here are three friends driven to the extreme by an expanse of white canvas, and we are treated to a sideshow.

The three men are not so much in control as they imagine.

An actor reading a play molds the written words into mental images of stage action. He starts with emptiness and fills it with entrances, exits, walking, gesturing, shouting, whispering, and any other expression that comes to mind to fill the expansive theatre, to bring life to the void.