Winter arrived in London today, with rain, some sleet, and a pervasive chill. But the 23 guests on the Playbill On-Line tour spent the morning inside a warm touring coach, seeing the sights of London in its, uh, natural environment. London Bridge, Big Ben, Harrods, Trafalgar Square and St. Paul's were followed by a walking tour on the hallowed stones of Westminster Abbey.
Theatrically, the town was buzzing about tonight's opening of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar in its 25th anniversary production at the refurbished Lyceum Theatre, which has been dark (with a brief exception) for an unbelievable 50-plus years since it was damaged by Nazi bombs in the Blitz.
On our second night in town, we saw Yasmina Reza's Art, which opened here just weeks ago at Wyndham's Theatre.
Art is a comedy about three old pals, Marc (Albert Finney), Serge (Tom Courtenay) and Ivan (Ken Stott), whose long friendship fractures over a seemingly minor issue: Serge pays a fortune for a painting that is completely white. Marc thinks he's gone mad, and questions the foundations of their friendship. The reaction brings forth emotions that all three had been keeping unspoken.
Afterward, the Playbill On-Line guests retired to the famous theatrical pub the Salisbury on St. Martin's Lane to warm up and to hash out what they'd just seen. Here are selections from their opinions: James Simon of New York:
From an actor's perspective, it's inspiring to watch three men on stage who know their craft forward and backward and carry it off masterfully. It's quite true to life as a realized circumstance. It's a wonderful combination of drama and comedy. Incredibly exciting. I'll tell you a moment that was played perfectly: When Albert Finney is given the marker to [deface] the canvas. . . It was painful, because you feel bad. At the same time, it's uproariously funny. It's one of the best plays I've seen in a long time. It's one of those performances that relies not so much on a great director as great actors.
Marion Dabulas of New Jersey:
Now that's a show. The younger one [Ken Stott] really had a command of the English language.
William Coakley of New Jersey:
I thought the play was probably too accurate about human behavior. I didn't think it was light enough. It should have been lighter. It's more a "drama-dy" than a comedy. You think you know a friend so well, then he does something like that, you say to yourself, 'his taste is so different! How did I get to be friends with this person?' When the two [Finney and Courtenay] gang up on Ivan, you see that kind of thing a lot. It was very accurate. It's so true how people can be offended by a person's opinion about the president, politics, religion . . . What I was expecting was a comedy that would touch on those things in a light manner, so to me it was surprising. But it's great at evoking your emotions. Very insightful.
Sandra Caligiuri of New Jersey:
It's not about painting. It's about friendship, the development of friendship and the phases they [friendships] go through. The time comes in friendships where they either end or continue. I thought one of them [Albert Finney, who turned bright red when he got angry] was going to have a heart attack. I don't know if I could have dealt with a friendship like that.
Barbara Meyer of Kentucky:
What a pleasure to see three fine actors who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were enjoying their performances. Experiences that kind of talent is like savoring a fine wine. Being in the front row helped me to appreciate the subtle body language and facial expressions that added to the richness of this show.
I thought that the play addressed pretense and friendship as much as anything else. As an art student, I've had many of these "What in the heck IS it exactly?" debates with friends in my classes. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who doesn't know.
Clifton Hieronymus of Ohio:
That's just a piece of regular life and it's funny as hell.
Jill Anderson of Dallas:
The writer obviously did more than her share of weddings. I felt her pain. The writer obviously had deep and long-lasting friendships. I had a friend that . . . you have to love her. I once said to her, "You ask too many questions." [It hurt her feelings so] I took her on a theatre tour to New York to patch things up.
Mary Kelleher of New Jersey:
I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Lester Bushman of Pennsylvania:
[I] studied under one of America's great painters, Franklin Watkins, who instructed us, when painting: don't paint what you see visually but what you feel, what happens inside your mind. So I can defend this blank canvas, because I see a lot of things in there. On the other hand, are we talking about a portrait of absurdity? I loved it. I also liked [sitting] so darn close. I once bought a Modigliani print in Rome for $6 -- but it cost me $100 to frame it. Now, isn't that as absurd as anything in this play? A lot of things hit home because we argued about the same things in art school. At times it almost became annoying how the art was overlooked by this other conversation [about friendship]. All in all, though, this is one of the most exciting moments of my life, getting together with a group [and talking about theatre] like this.
Sharon Ciano of New York:
I thought it was very funny. The three actors were great together. Ken Stott was the best out of the three. It's a must-see and should be brought to New York for others to enjoy.
William Kelleher of New Jersey:
I thought it was great. It's the funniest show I've seen in years. No message, no preaching, just sit back and enjoy it. [But in my own life] I think I'd walk away before I'd engage in that much unfriendly dialogue.
Doris Bushman of Pennsylvania:
You know what was funny? Albert Finney. I never remember him looking like that. I kept looking at the program to make sure it was him. But I thought he was wonderful. You know something else? We were thinking of making a picture like that for our living room.
Susan Coakley of New Jersey:
It was dynamic, it was highly charged, it was filled with emotion. I thought all three actors flowed together exceptionally well. One did not detract from the other. The way it showed the bond of male friendship was especially breathtaking. When he [Albert Finney] drew that line [defacing the painting] it just brought tears. Today, I don't think we put that much into our friendships. It was nice to be reminded.
Peggy Griffin of New Jersey:
I liked it. It was all about friendship and what you'll do [for friendship], about how a deep-founded friendship will take a lot of abuse. It was just the right length [about 90 minutes]. Only a woman could write it. They're much more observing. But I think women would never have a conversation like that. But it [laughing at the play] is good for the endorphins.
Janet Allgair of New Jersey:
Instead of a painting, it could have been about three women and a man they disapproved of. It's the sort of thing you see in very close relationships where all of them are very emotional.
Elinor Merner of New Jersey:
The three of us [she and her traveling companions] are [close] like that, the Three Musketeers. But we would never talk to each other like that.
Selma English of New Jersey:
Men would shrug something like that off more than women would. If women were in a situation like that, they wouldn't say what they [the characters in the play] did. They'd probably take a long time to pick up a phone and talk to each other.
The morning after the show, the group played a game: pick the American cast. Among the proposals:
For Marc, the blustery Albert Finney role: Brian Dennehy, John Lithgow, Carroll O'Connor, O.J. Simpson.
For Serge, the aesthetic purchaser of the offending painting, played by Tom Courtenay: Tony Randall, John Lithgow, Walter Matthau
For Ivan, the conciliatory friend who has two great speeches, one about the politics of wedding invitations, one in which he bursts into tears, played in London by Ken Stott: Nathan Lane, Dustin Hoffman.
There also was a vote for "Friends" stars Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc -- in any combination. They were in the audience with us the night we saw Art.
Playbill On-Line will be reporting from London throughout the week of Nov. 19-24. As a group we'll be touring the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Royal National Theatre, the working recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre -- as well as seeing and reviewing a variety of West End shows includingWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Diana Rigg, and, by demand from the members of the group, the long-running musical hit, Blood Brothers. Check in daily to follow our progress.
Playbill is planning more exciting Preview Tours to London in spring and summer of 1997. We get the toughest tickets for the newest productions, and post guests' reviews online. For inquiries, call Beverly Markman or Roberta Cohen at (800) 554-7513.
-- By Robert Viagas