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'Art' set for run at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse

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There is an age-old query posed in the dark comedy opening Friday at Corn Stock Theatre's Winter Playhouse: Which is more important, people or possessions?

On the surface "Art," the play by Yasmina Reza, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1998, appears to ask the question, what is art? But as the play unfolds it is obvious it goes deeper than man's thoughts about art, especially when close relationships are involved.

"Art is almost irrelevant to the play, really," said Charles Brown, who is directing the Corn Stock production. While we do see how each character reacts to art and what each believes constitutes art, that is almost a kind of misdirection by the playwright."

"By the show's end we realize that the art is a possession, a thing, and that people are more important than possessions. When it comes down to it, most people will choose friendship," Brown said.

"Art" has a five-show run, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and againt on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22, respectively. It will close with a 2:30 p.m. matinee performance on Sunday, Feb. 23.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. They can be reserved by calling 676-2196.

"Art" centers on three men, friends for many years. But the friendships get strained when one of them spends a lot of money on a painting that the other two are not fond of. The painting is white on white and from a distance looks simply like a piece of white canvas.

"It takes a close look to see that it is more than just a white painting, but not everyone wants to take a closer look," said Brown. Indeed the painting is merely the tool that leads to the strain in the friendships coming out into the open and for a showdown among the friends that gets nasty and physical before reaching a resolution.

In his Director's Note about the show Brown wrote, "Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but perhaps, just perhaps, true friendship is blind and we choose to see through the eyes of our friends."

Brown has community three veterans in his cast, including Mike Reams as Serge, the art procurer, and Nate Downs as Marc, the chief antagonist. Brian Artman of Bloomington has performed on other stages but is making his Corn Stock debut as Yvan, the friend who tries to play peace maker before things get out of hand.

"I have seen this play where the parts seemed to be type cast. What I was looking for were three guys close to the same age that we could easily imagine as being buddies; guys we might run into hanging out at a bar. I think I got that look, that dynamic. And this cast plays it very well," Brown said.

Brown said he first became interested in "Art" while preparing to audition for another Corn Stock Winter Playhouse production, "Red," which was performed last winter. It, too, focuses on a relationship between people with art as the straw that stirs the drink. But Brown said the similarities end there.

"Whereas 'Red' uses its characters to look at art a certain way, this show is the mirror image. It uses the art to bring focus to the characters," he said. "That's why I was interested in directing this show. And I like a good piece of theatre where I can focus on the writing and the acting."

Another aspect that interested Brown was the mixing of the mediums, drama and visual art. As it did during the run of "Red" last winter, Corn Stock has turned its dance studio adjacent to the theater into a gallery showcasing local artists. Patrons will be free to view the art before or after the play, which is a one-act play less than 90 minutes in length.

"Art" was the first of two plays by Reza that won the Best Play honors at the Tony Awards. The other was "God of Carnage," which won the Tony in 2009 and was presented at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse in 2012.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).