Because of my completely (completely!) unpretentious and ingratiating public persona, you wouldn't know that I can be a bit of a snob about things, particularly when it comes to theater. I have this theory that one's enjoyment of a play begins to break down when you sit beyond the seventh row and that enjoyment gets incrementally damaged as you keep going back. I think that's why many big Broadway shows leave a lot of people I know cold and indifferent.
I saw Yasmina Reza's brilliantly funny and perceptive play, Art (translated by Christopher Hampton), on Broadway many years ago with the powerhouse cast of Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina. I'm sure you can imagine how delicious those scenery-chewing performances were—after all, the absurd story of three friends fighting over how stupid one of them is to pay a shitload of money for a white painting (it's modern art!) is rife with comic possibilities—but I must say, sitting in the fifteenth row or so, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between me and the performance, a disconnect that I tried hard to resist because, having read the play prior, it was one of my all-time favorites. It was my Seventh Row Theory in action.
Well, not only is East West Players' current production of Art, running through October 11, 2009, pitch-perfect—from the nimble yet depth-delving directing by Alberto Isaac to the very funny yet ultimately heartbreaking performances of Francois Chau (who you may recognize as Dr. Pierre Chang from Lost), Bernard White, and force of nature Ryun Yu—I got to sit in the fourth row. (Ah, the beauty of connections!) Thus, I found myself more deeply affected by this production than what I had seen on Broadway.
The play may delight in mocking the pretentiousness of some modern art, as well as the intellectuals who rail against it, but Reza is more interested in how the pursuit of artistic beauty is, in essence, a fight against the impermanence of friendships, of one's self-perception, and of life itself. Art lasts; we don't; what now?
For more information and tickets, visit East West Players.