While some playwrights search for "big" issues to give their work stature (with mixed results), French writer Yasmina Reza takes an opposite tack in this clever philosophic farce, beginning with a seemingly trivial incident—a disagreement among three Parisian friends about the merits of a painting—and digging into it to reveal unexpected depths.
Serge (Francois Chau) has purchased a white-on-white painting for 200,000 francs and expects his friends to applaud his purchase. But Marc (Bernard White) is shocked and appalled that Serge has spent a vast a sum on what looks like a blank canvas. He dismisses the painting as "a piece of shit." Serge, of course, is incensed. Marc turns to their mutual friend Yvan (Ryun Yu) to back him up—and poor Yvan is stuck in the middle of their fight. As the quarrel escalates, the men's 15-year friendship crumbles, revealing the rivalries, competitiveness and mutual contempt that lurk beneath the civilized surface. Eventually they resort to violence, against the painting and each other.
Reza's script is marked by its wit and elegance, and director Alberto Isaac gives it an appropriately stylish and sophisticated production on Alan E. Muraoka's appropriately white-on-white set.
The three-man cast plays the piece with unpretentious precision and considerable flair, and they effectively capture the play's understated comedy. Chau, as the avant-garde-oriented Serge, is urbane and confident in his espousal of the values of deconstruction and the international art market. White as the arrogant Marc radiates malice as he cynically and gleefully debunks everything in sight, including his friends. And Yu lends inarticulate charm to the long-suffering Yvan, the most naive and the most human of the three, who is branded as gutless because he tries to play the mediator and ultimately finds himself under attack from both sides.
Presented by East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A. Sept. 16–Oct. 11. Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (213) 625-7000. www.eastwestplayers.org.