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The Art of Friendship:

Feb 2, 2007

WHITBY -- Our reaction to art is a personal thing.
A painting might send one person into fits of rapture, another into fits of laughter. You just never know.

It's this aspect of art that French playwright Yasmina Reza explores in her play, Art, which is being staged this month by Whitby Courthouse Theatre.

Director Joe Szekeres said Reza wrote the play after one of her friends bought a work of art and asked her for her opinion of it. She broke out in laughter, Szekeres said.

She's taken that experience, added three friends, all male, and served up a fast-paced comedy that explores the value of art and friendship, particularly male friendship.

"They've been friends for a few years," Szekeres, a teacher at Paul Dwyer High School in Oshawa, said of the three characters, Serge, Marc and Yvan.

"One of them (Serge) buys an abstract painting for 200,000 francs, $40,000 Canadian. He buys the painting because he loves it. He saw something in this painting which moved touched something in him. The whole notion of art is it moves us."

However, his friend Marc can't understand what Serge sees in the work of art. Discussions, sometimes heated ones, follow about not only the piece of art but also their friendship, Szekeres said. Serge looks on Marc as his mentor; Marc can't understand why Serge has gone and bought something without his advice.

"The whole play becomes a catalyst for these friends to examine their friendship, to look at why they are friends. It's quite funny at times but at other times, it is very nasty.

Men know how to get under other men's skin, know what buttons to push, and these men push all the buttons they can find, he said.

Yvan, who acts as an arbiter between Serge and Marc, often finds himself turned on by both of his friends, Szekeres said.

He added the playwright, while a woman, has an amazing understanding of men, how they act, how they talk and how they think.

"She understands what makes men tick," he said.

Szekeres has a good understanding of the play, which is one of his favourites. He's seen it four times and directed it once already.

He saw it in London, England, in New York (with Alan Alda, Alfred Molina and Canadian Victor Garber) and in Toronto. He directed it in 2003 with Durham Shoestring Performers in Oshawa. After his first viewing of it, he sat speechless for five minutes, he said.

"The play says a lot about friendship. It brings this question that men have to start answering -- 'Why am I friends with this person?'" Szekeres said.

He characterizes the humour, which comes in fast-paced dialogue as cerebral, adding you have to listen closely to get everything.

Playing Serge, the buyer of the painting, is played by John Fitzgerald, a member of Oshawa Little Theatre and a teacher at Notre Dame school in Ajax. Anthony Ward plays Marc. Ward also works in Ajax and has appeared on many local stages, including Whitby, Ajax and Port Perry. Yvan is Brian Stevenson who has appeared with OLT, WCT, Durham Shoestring and Class Act.

The set has been designed by Steve Neving, who did the set for Durham Shoestring's production of Elizabeth Rex and has designed the one for WCT's next play, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The stage manager is Ramona Abraham and assistant stage manager of Mignonne Sorlie, who staged managed the DSP production of Art.

The play is 90 minutes long with no intermission. Szekeres said the language can be colourful at times.

The play opens Feb. 8 and runs through to Feb. 24, with a fundraiser on Feb. 13 for the John Howard Society of Durham Region. On Feb. 16, the comedy will be reviewed and adjudicated for the Association of Community Theatres-Central Ontario. Show time is 8 p.m. at the Whitby Centennial Building, 416 Centre St. S.

Tickets are available through LaFontaine, 106 Dundas St. W., 905-430-3774.

Christy Chase is the entertainment editor of This Week. Contact her at