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Your friend has ridiculous taste. Do you correct him? Or do you preserve your friendship?

click to enlarge TAMMY MARSHALL
  • Tammy Marshall

“Art” isn’t about art at all. It’s about friendship: How we try to domineer our friends and mold them according to our own values.

It’s a thoughtful play, but “Art” is also a comedy — because the relationship decisions that playwright Yasmina Reza’s three characters make are all so laughably bad.

Suppose, for example, that your best friend did something that you considered wrong-minded, wasteful, pretentious and embarrassing. Would you tell him?

Would you tell him kindly, and with an eye to preserving your friendship? Or would you tell him unkindly, getting all principled and cold with him?

In director Reed McColm’s production of Yasmina Reza’s play (through March 27), Interplayers has bounced back with one of the current season’s best productions.

As Marc — who scoffs at the purchase by his friend Serge (Roger Welch) of an all-white painting — Jack Bannon offers the evening’s most subtle performance. When mocking the idea that a non-painting can have emotional “resonance,” Bannon clutches two hands to his chest and looks skyward, ever the martyr. When Serge praises an ancient writer for being “incredibly modern,” Bannon repeats the phrase with withering sarcasm. When Serge rebels against Marc’s disdain, Bannon responds with a resigned look, his hands folded, condescendingly calm.

Unfortunately, Bannon’s energy level seemed low at a preview-night performance; his voice, occasionally feeble. All three cast members were guilty of line-wobbles, noticeable lapses, places where the 90-minute, intermissionless pace needed to quicken. Over the course of the run, however, they’ll probably resolve such problems.

As Serge — purchaser of the all-white canvas — Roger Welch sweeps his arm across his prized possession. “It’s plain,” he says, investing the painting with more dignity than it deserves. It has only a few swipes of indiscernible color — enough to test whether we’ll restrain our ego (that’s a nice painting, Serge) or exert it (you’re an idiot, Serge).

Welch is perhaps at his best during the sequences when Serge and Marc gang up on their mutual friend Yvan (Patrick Treadway), who’s caught in the middle. Lounging on a sofa, with drink in hand, Welch tosses off insults with a sour expression, walking the fine line between blunt honesty and supercilious disdain.

Treadway’s finest moment comes in a mid-play rant, a miniature soap opera of a monologue in which Yvan whines about preparations for his upcoming wedding. Watch how Treadway avoids most look-how-frantic-I-am choices, instead choosing to stay seated on the couch, bouncing up only on occasion.

Poor spineless Yvan: caught between two massive egos, his pleas for the civility and consideration of genuine friendship go unheard. McColm emphasizes the dissolving friendships by disengaging his three actors in separate pools of light; for the various two-on-one face-offs, he aligns twosomes shoulder to shoulder while isolating the third actor.

Bannon invests the play’s final speech with a sobering reflection: We fill our lives with egotism. And then our lives disappear.

Will our legacies involve how many people loved us, or how well we upheld our principles? “Art” is the kind of play that inspires post-performance discussion — because you and your companions might have differing views about it.

At which point you may be compelled to choose: my friendships or my opinions?

“Art” sticks an all-white painting in our faces through March 27 on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St. Tickets: $15-$21; $12-$19, seniors; $10, student rush. Visit interplayers.com or call 455-PLAY.

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