San Francisco Playhouse launches new season with online video stream of ‘Art’

Serge (Johnny Moreno), Marc (Jomar Tagatac), and Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) in ‘Art’

In a hugely welcome development, San Francisco Playhouse directors Bill English and Susi Damilano are thrilled to announce their first production of the new season – an online video stream of Yasmina Reza’s highly successful play, Art.

Filming took place this week at the Playhouse, with professional costumes, set, lighting, sound and props design, making this much-loved venue one of the first theatres in the United States to be granted permission to film an on-stage production. The final cut premieres online today – Saturday, October 24th – and will be available to view on-demand through November 7th.

Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Serge (Johnny Moreno) laugh about Serge’s new painting

Yasmina Reza’s French-language play has proved immensely popular since its 1994 premiere at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The English version, translated by Christopher Hampton, initially opened in London’s West End on October 15th, 1996, at Wyndham’s Theatre, before moving to the Whitehall Theatre in October 2001. Starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott, it ran for eight years, with a succession of star casts. On Broadway, Art opened in 1998, and ran for 600 performances, receiving a Tony award for best new play.

Described by The Times as “A remarkably wise, witty and intelligent comedy”, Art was also said by The Times to have “touched a universal nerve” – an observation which may just be the reason for the success of the play. Based on an apparently simply premise, it revolves around three friends, one of whom, Serge (played by Johnny Moreno), buys a ‘painting’ – an apparently plain white canvas – by a fashionable artist, for what’s perceived to be a wildly unrealistic price. Marc (Jomar Tagatac), with whom Serge has been friends for a long time, thinks it’s rubbish, while Yvan, played by Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari – a friend of both – tries to pour oil on troubled waters, and succeeds only in antagonising both of them.

Serge (Johnny Moreno, right) shows off his new painting to Marc (Jomar Tagatac)

The obvious question posed by this dilemma is whether art has fallen victim to market values, and whether the higher the price tag, the greater value the work represents. There is, however, another thought which the playwright introduces – the link between taste and friendship, and whether people whose views on any aspect of the arts are diametrically opposed, can really sustain a genuine friendship.

Yasmina Reza – who is also an actress, screenwriter and novelist – has won the Prix Molière for several of her plays, following her first success with Conversations After A Burial in 1987. Art was the first of her plays to be widely seen outside France, and since then, others have been nominated at the Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards, including The Unexpected Man and Life x 3. God of Carnage won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards and in 1999 Reza was invited to join the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Marc (Jomar Tagatac) discuss their friend’s unexpected purchase

Christopher Hampton – British playwright, screenwriter, translator and film director – was the youngest writer ever to have a play staged in the West End. Prior to achieving fame for screenplays such as Atonement (2007), Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and The Quiet American (2002) among others, he was resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre during the late 1960s.

San Francisco Playhouse is the Bay Area’s premiere mid-sized theatre company, normally presenting over 400 performances a year. Located in the heart of the Union Square Theater District, it is the city’s Off-Broadway company, described by the New York Times as “A company [that] stages some of the most consistently high-quality work around”.

The dispute over the white painting between Marc (Jomar Tagatac), Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari), and Serge (Johnny Moreno*) reaches a tipping point

Yasmina Reza’s Art, directed by Bill English, can be viewed as an on-demand video stream via the San Francisco Playhouse website where tickets can be purchased. Viewing is available worldwide from 8.00 pm (Pacific Time) on October 24th through November 7th.

All photographs courtesy San Francisco Playhouse

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