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高级阅读_09 The Enduring Appeal of Yasmina Reza's Art

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2019年05月08日

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09 The Enduring Appeal of Yasmina Reza's Art

Twenty years ago Yasmina Reza's Art opened at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées in Paris.I doubt that anyone could have predicted its global popularity.It opened in London in 1996, in Christopher Hampton's translation, and ran for eight years with a succession of star-casts starting with Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott.It enjoyed almost equal success in New York where it ran for 600 performances and picked up a Tony award for best new play.But just what is it about this seemingly simple play that made it such a big hit?

The obvious answer would be that it raises a whole series of unresolved questions about modern art.Serge buys an apparently pure white canvas by a fashionable artist for 200,000 francs.His old chum, Marc, think it's a piece of shit.Yves, their common friend, tries to reconcile their views and only succeeds in antagonising both of them.Like John Berger in The Success and Failure of Picasso, Reza clearly asks whether aesthetics is now inextricably confused with market value: when we read that a painting has been sold for countless millions in the auction room, do we somehow rate it more highly? Reza also explores the connection between taste and friendship.Is it possible to enjoy a real relationship with someone whose views on art, books, or theatre for that matter, are radically different from our own? If you embrace modernism, and I'm a traditionalist—as happens with Serge and Marc—is there any real foundation for friendship?

But I've long suspected the popularity of Art has to do with something else.It raises one of drama's eternal questions: how much truth and honesty human beings can stand.The play starts with Marc bluntly spitting out his views: it ends with Serge telling a necessary lie in order to preserve their relationship.Just like Molière in The Misanthrope, though without the same virtuosity, Reza is examining whether private relationships and public affairs depend upon a certain skilful hypocrisy.“Sincerity in society,” Somerset Maugham once wrote, “is like an iron girder in a house of cards.” And Reza's point, not unlike Molière's, is that we only continue to function as social beings by playing the accepted rules of the game.

There are probably more pragmatic reasons why Reza's play has proved so popular.It offers three meaty roles to chew on, which is why in London it proved so hospitable to an endless succession of stand-up comics and character-actors.At 90 minutes, it also perfectly suits the modern appetite for a play that provides just enough to talk about over drinks or dinner.Reza went on to write more taxing plays but she learned early on the value of a very simple lesson: that life is long but Art is short.


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