On the surface, the play "Art" is about a man buying a painting that his friends don't like. At the heart of the play, however, is the question how much stress can a friendship take until it breaks.
"These guys have opinions that make them human and they make the human mistake of thinking their opinions are the right opinions," said director Ronn Smith, who also performs in the play, along with local actors Jay Tryall and Dennis Bayne. "It gets deep and lines are crossed and the friendships are forever changed."
"Art," which is rated PG13 due to some adult language, opens at Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts' black box theater at 8 p.m. Friday and continues with 8 p.m. performances on Saturday and Feb. 6 and 7. Matinees will be shown at 3 p.m. on Feb. 1 and 8.
The basic premise of show is that Serge, played by Tryall, buys a white painting with barely visible white lines on it, for a huge sum of money. The purchase causes Marc, played by Smith, to react with disdain, as he thinks the work is not artistic at all. In the middle, trying to keep the peace, is Yvan, played by Bayne. Though Bayne attempts to mollify his two friends by siding with each one behind the other's back, he instead inadvertently fuels the disagreement.
Interwoven into the dialogue is a good dose of humor that is not slapstick, but rather a depiction of everyday life situations that make the characters miserable. It's a play in which "everyman" is reflected to some degree or another, said Smith.
"I always think comedies are a good way to go," said Smith.
"Art" represents a Conyers directorial debut for Smith, a professional actor with 23 years of experience on the stage. After earning a bachelor's in fine arts degree in musical theater from Loretto Heights College in Denver, Smith entered into a master's program but got cast in a professional production, "Shout Up a Morning," which ran at the LaJolla Playhouse in San Diego and then at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He then played the roles of Mingo and Sportin' Life in a touring production of "Porgy and Bess," an experience through which he met his wife, Theresa Hamm-Smith, a Conyers native who has built a successful career in opera.
Smith lived in New York for 12 years, working in regional theaters throughout the U.S. and moved to the Atlanta area in 2000. He and his wife now live in Newton County with their 5-year-old son, Jackson.
"I'm trying to branch out more locally in the art community and trying to encourage in whatever way I can this thing called 'art'," said Smith.
Smith said he chose "Art" partially because it was a small show that could be performed on a reasonable budget, a consideration of all arts organizations in the current tough economic climate. He said he also fell in love with the play years ago when he saw it at the Alliance Theatre. Originally written as a French language play by Yasmina Reza, "Art" opened in 1994 in London and in 1998 won a Tony Award for Best Play, as well as a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy and a New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play.
Smith said the strength of the play is its writing, and while the piece is cerebral, it's also visceral, touching a chord with both audiences and performers.
"As actors, with each passing day and week, the material seems to unveil itself two- and three- and fourfold," said Smith.
Contact Karen J. Rohr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
What: "Art," a comedy in one act
When: 8 p.m. on Jan. 30 and 31 and Feb. 6 and 7; 3 p.m. on Feb. 1 and 8
Where: Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts' Center Street Arts theater, 910 Center St., in Olde Town Conyers
Cost: Tickets are $20; $15 tickets available for seniors and students during matinees
Info: Call 770-922-3143 or online at www.conyersarts.org