Reviewed by Katherine Karlson

Audience members at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene will have to remind themselves to stop laughing at the rapid-fire language and wit in tArt to absorb the thought-provoking ideas the one-act play presents.

A spare set contains all the action, both dramatic and funny, in which the three characters — Serge (Zach Curtis), Marc (Drew Kahl) and Yvan (Joey Sponseller) — try their 15-year friendship to its limit. Director Craig Johnson has done full justice to the Tony Award-winning play by Yasmina Reza. The pace is quick but gives focus to the realizations each character voices throughout the play.

The play opens with Serge’s recent acquisition of an abstract piece of art that cost Euro 200,000 and how he wants his closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to admire and appreciate the painting as much as he does. Each character has a strongly delineated personality, and the respective actors reveal theirs fully through facial expressions, voice tone and countless telling gestures. Curtis is a treat to watch as he imitates how Marc’s female friend, Paula, waves away cigarette smoke in a way that speaks volumes of contempt and disdain.

The elephant in the room is the five-by-four-foot abstract painting by an acclaimed modern artist (“The Pompidou has three, and none of them are as good as this!”, Serge says proudly), which acts as a flash point for all kinds of long-held grudges to emerge among the three friends. Marc thinks Serge has replaced his friends with the painting, which is couched in the repeated accusation that each man has “lost your sense of humor.” Little annoyances, such as Yvan’s signature tardiness and reconciliatory behavior, become emotional triggers that set off yet more accusations and belittling comments.

The three friends dissect each other’s words, tones of voices and reactions to the most commonplace events (e.g., nibbling on some olives) with increasingly sharpened verbal knives, because they know each other so well. Language is important to these men, and that is how the playwright has shown us their inner turmoil as they sort through this difficult period in their relationship. The three friends come to a point where they actually question each other, “What binds you to me?”

A moment that illustrates how keenly each man feels the breakdown of their friendship is Yvan’s meltdown over the names to appear on his upcoming wedding’s invitation. This scene alone is worth the price of admission, thanks to Sponseller’s talented physicality and mimicry of various female family members. Yet his two friends respond to this rant by saying he creates a condition of conflict.

The three friends reach what Marc calls “the apocalypse because of a white square,” and he takes up Serge’s challenge with the aid of one of Yvan’s felt tip pens. While it appears that the friendship is permanently broken as a result of this act, it has merely gone into a much-needed “trial period” to restore the emotional ties among the three men. Marc, whom Kahl defines with depth and intensity, sums it up: “Nothing beautiful in the world has been formed by rational argument.” All their bantering, bickering and verbal dueling to convince each other about the painting’s true worth carry no weight against the unspoken friendship they have and will continue to share.

IF YOU GO: Art will continue at the Chenango River Theatre, 991 NY-12, Greene, through Sept. 18 with Thursday through Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. Single tickets are $27. The fastest way to purchase tickets on the theater’s website, For phone orders, there is a 24-hour reservation line (607-656-8499). It may take two to three days to process phone orders.

All performances begin on time with no late seating.

Free tickets for high school and college students are available at all evening performances. Email for reservations, which are required for the free ticket program