Three friends argue over the value and interpretation of art at Toronto’s Unit 102
Serge thinks it shows refinement. Depth. Modernity. It may very well be his proudest possession.
Marc thinks it’s a white rectangle with white stripes. His dog could have painted it. And Serge spent how much on this piece of shit? Oh lord…
Ivan just wishes they’d stop fighting.
The stage is thus set for an examination of identity, modernity, friendship, self-respect, rude words, kind gestures, fisticuffs and felt-tip pens.
I was very taken with the quality of character work in this piece. John Healy’s Marc, someone who appears incapable of any feeling other than contempt, nevertheless has a strong vulnerable side: this is a man who wants his opinions to matter deeply, even if he has to run them to extremes in order to get them noticed; somone who would sooner stand in the rain and proclaim it sunny than agree with a friend that it was a little wet. Healy’s multilayered performance conveys both the outward confidence and the deep insecurity which the role screams out for.
As Serge, Brandon Thomas is the quiet one, smoldering away in his armchair, visibly furious but never raising his voice. Serge has begun to find his own path, and has even begun to challenge Marc’s nihilism and rejection of the status quo, although he lacks the confidence to address him directly. But unlike Ivan, Serge still has convictions, and beliefs, and an identity which he holds higher than friendship alone. Serge is changing, Serge is growing, and Serge is beginning to wonder whether the time has come to put away childish things. Thomas underplays the role, which imbues it with a unique confidence: Marc screams and sniggers and hoots and hollers to broadcast confidence and cover up his insecurities; but when Marc sits and listens, head tilted gently to one side, he telegraphs the very boldness that Marc only wishes he possessed.
And then there’s Jonah Allison’s Ivan, the only character aware of the ludicrousness of the entire situation, and yet too much of a wimpy sad sack to get either of the others to take him seriously. Ivan sees the friendship splintering; Ivan sees the silly, futile arguments; Ivan wants to talk about real problems in the real world, while the other two prattle on about art. And, because he inhabits this real world–this world where making and having friends and genuine human connections matter more than saving face or impressing the others–Ivan stands to lose the most if the three can’t patch things up. Marc will have other opportunities to outrage and discomfort the establishment; Serge can take comfort in his money, his possessions, his insider status; but this friendship is all that Ivan’s got. Allison’s soft eyes and gentle touch imbue this character with a spine he’d be sorely lacking if played by a lesser actor–and a spine he absolutely must have.
You’ll probably disagree with my analysis, and that’s fine. This is a horserace kind of show: you’re going to pick a pony in the first scene, and you’re going to stick with him all the way to the end. Some characters will appeal more to some viewers than others, and that’s going to radically alter the experience you have.
But surely that’s the point?
I’m telling you what I saw in that space, and I saw a rectangular box with white lines.
When you look at the same play, you might see something totally different.
And that, gentle reader, is the nature of Art.