The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 30, 2012

Play turns art debate into study of friends

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — The centerpiece of “Art,” directed by Bill Perry, is a blank, white canvans. It’s a work of art for which one of the characters paid $2,000, he said.

But though art is prominently featured, the centerpiece of “Art” is friendship, Perry said.

“We get a lot of different views about what art is, and how one should view art,” Perry said. “But it’s really about relationships between three friends.”

The play will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through April 7 and at 2:30 p.m. on April 8 at Joplin Little Theatre. The Wedensday night opening will feature an exhibit by artists of the Joplin Regional Art Coalition, who were asked to compose white works. Wine and cheese will be served.

The play tells the story of three friends -- one buys the work of art and the other two come over to see it. The play, written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, won a Tony in 1998 and a Lawrence Olivier award in 1996-97.

Perry said he saw the play in the mid-’90s and fell in love with it. The version he saw starred Alan Alda, Alfred Molina and Victor Garber.

“I went to see it and it blew me away,” Perry said. “I kept thinking that I want to do that sometime. (The play) doesn’t give answers, but gives you a lot to think about. When you leave, the play isn’t over, because you’re still thinking about it.”

The three friends are played by three fellow directors, Perry said: Kevin Babbitt, Jim Lile and Greg Swartz. Perry said directing directors is usually difficult, but working with these three has let the cast and crew delve into the finer points of the play.

“These guys have been a joy,” Perry said. “They knew their lines right off the bat, so we’ve been able to really work the small things in the show.”

Memorizing such a rapid-fire set of lines is no easy feat. Reza’s characters have a lot to say, and they are no simpletons.

“This is a quick-witted, erudite show,” Perry said. “It’s just fascinating. You hang on each word they say.”

The set was designed long-distance by Sean Irish, who worked with JLT workers over the Internet. Perry said that the theater also brought in a fight choreographer for a crucial scene.

Want to see?

If you do, director Bill Perry is jealous of you. He said he can’t wait for audiences to discover the play.

“Art” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through April 7 and at 2:30 p.m. April 8.

Tickets: $13, $11 for seniors and students.

Details: 417-623-3638.