Review: ‘Art’ at Playhouse Is Well…Art

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

It is not often that you get to see a stage production where the title also describes the quality of the production. But that is the case with “Art,” by Yasmina Reza, which opened Friday night at the Youngstown Playhouse for a two-weekend run.

The French language play, adapted to Eng•lish by Christopher Hampton, is artfully acted and staged as it plays out the eternal question of “what is art?”

A three-character play, Art analyzes the relationship of three people who have been friends for the past 15 years. All three roles, usually played by men, are strongly written and require actors with considerable depth and ability.

Director Frank Martin added a twist to this production by turning the tables and making two of the three characters female. And believe me the gender change works. In fact, it worked so well it was hard to imagine men in those roles originally.

Jenna Cintavey plays Marion (traditionally Mark) and introduces the audience to the essence of the play. Her friend Simone (traditionally Serge) has purchased a painting for 200,000 euros (about $218,000 U.S.). The problem is that the painting, which is about 2-by-3 feet, is entirely white with scattered white lines. So, it is basically a white canvas. Marion cannot see any value, or art, in it and criticizes her friend Simone for making such a foolish purchase.

This role is a natural for Cintavey. For a role where comedy timing and strong character performance are essential, Cintavey more than fills the bill. Marion actually serves as a sort of fulcrum around which the rest of the play pivots. It is her disdain that starts the ball rolling. She handles the multi-layered Marion with strong authority culminating in a dramatic scene toward the end giving the audience a better understanding of where her stance throughout the show initiated.

Jenna Cintavey (left), James Hain and Whetstine Mausteller star in “Art.”

Leslie Whetstine handles the affluent and somewhat arrogant role of Simone. Not willing to accept any disparaging remarks about her proud possession, Simone takes the “holier than thou” road in defense of the expensive painting.

Whetstine sells this role with relish and sinks her teeth into every encounter with Marion. It is this conflict between the friends that lays the groundwork for their disintegrating relationship as they launch insults and accusations at each other, using the painting as an springboard for their attacks. Whetstine is almost mesmerizing in her portrayal of Simone to the extent that you begin believing there might be more to the painting than just a white canvas. She and Cintavey play off of each other so well that their scenes seem almost too real.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Yvan, played by James Hain. Yvan first comes off as a nerdy character but his character builds big time as the play moves along. He is friends with both women and tries to be understanding of both women’s points of view.

Playing both ends against the middle, however, gets him into trouble on both sides. Hain starts out mild-mannered and builds the character like an architect building a house – a step at a time. His scene where he has a tirade on which mother’s name should be on his wedding invitations is truly a work of art.

Martin is to be commended for molding his cast into a strong unit and keeping the show moving at break-neck speed. His set design, along with Johnny Pecano, is simple and functional and keeps the focus on the actors. The white back wall essentially keeps the painting in audience view the entire night.

Check your art appreciation with “Art “

Oct. 4, 5 at 7:30 p. m., Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m.
Youngstown Playhouse
600 Playhouse Lane
330 788 8739
CAUTION: Adult Language

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