FREEPORT – “What is art?” is an age-old question that has sparked heated debates since the dawn of art. In the end, it boils down to one simple realization; Art, as with beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Still, what would you do and say if you felt your best friend paid an exorbitant sum for a piece of art you found to be absolutely asinine? Would it shake the foundation of your friendship?

Freeport Factory Stage is playfully tackling these thought-provoking questions and more in French playwright Yasmina Reza’s “Art.”

The award-winning play debuted in Paris in 1994. It was later adapted into English by Christopher Hampton, making its London debut in the West End in 1996 and hitting Broadway in 1998.

Julie George-Carlson directs Freeport Factory Stage’s rendition, starring James Noel Hoban (Marc), Chris Newcomb (Serge) and Joe McGrann (Yvan). The production marks the company’s debut since opening its doors in May. Prior productions were rental performances, staged by other performance groups.

“Art” is a well-chosen opener for the intimate 90-seat theater. Visually, the production is as minimalist as the play’s 4- by 5-foot, white-on-white painting. With a monochromatic, bare-bones set and a pared-down, three-member cast, there is nothing to divert the audience’s attention from the play’s colorful and witty dialogue. And therein lies its cunning charm.

Patrons at Saturday night’s performance couldn’t help but be drawn into the entertaining discourse unfolding before them. The theater seemed to melt into the shadows, leaving only the simple living room set, the three friends and the controversial modern artwork that’s the catalyst for the near destruction of their 15-year friendship.

The dialogue, filled with clever wordplay, rolled off the tongues of the three stars with ease as they delved into the quirks and shortcomings of their seemingly contrary characters. Sparks flew as the three friends’ disparate views on art and life began to unfold, all the while eliciting laughter from the audience.

Hoban portrayed the neurotic Marc to a T, emotionally unraveling before the audience’s eyes at the preposterous idea that his friend Serge would pay 200,000 francs for a virtually blank canvas.

McGrann was also at his best when his wishy-washy character colossally melted down under the pressures of his upcoming wedding and the idea of losing Marc and Serge to a silly disagreement. McGrann’s re-enactment of Yvan being caught in the middle of an argument between his mother and fiancee garnered applause from the audience as he wound the three-part diatribe to a breathless close.

Newcomb nicely rounded out the cast as Serge, fueling the argument as the devil’s advocate, all the while exuding indignation over Marc’s snide response to his beloved piece of art.

“Art” is a frequently funny commentary on modern art and clever exploration of what constitutes a friendship. Hoban, Newcomb and McGrann deliver Reza’s witty play with artistic flair. And with a price tag of $12-$15, there is little danger that friendships will be deconstructed over this artfully rendered piece.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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