When Garry Peter Morris and Kent Harrison Hayes began producing theater in Southern Utah 10 years ago, they had a mission: Bring theater that not only entertains, but also makes people think.
Their newest production, “Art,” aims to do just that.
The show by French playwright Yasmina Reza, which is translated to English by Christopher Hampton, won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1998. And now it’s being presented to audiences in Southern Utah thanks to the Kayenta Arts Foundation and Morris and Haye’s production company Man of Two Worlds.
“Art” tells the story of Serge who, after purchasing a totally-white painting for a stunning amount of money, draws the ire of his friend Marc. As their friend Yvan tries to keep the peace between them, the three men’s friendship is tested.
“His two best friends can’t believe that he would be so crazy to pay that much money for a white painting,” says Morris, who is directing the play and bringing to life the character of Serge. “It’s really about friendship, and the painting is just a catalyst that leads them down other roads in their rollercoaster ride of friendship.”
The purpose of ‘Art’
Morris says he and Hayes wanted to bring theater to Southern Utah that was thought-provoking, not just entertaining – a mission that aligns with the Kayenta Arts Foundation. They specifically wanted to bring in shows that Southern Utahns and tourists alike might not see from some of the other theatrical groups in the area.
“We were hoping that you could get something more out of it, that it might give you a different perspective on things in life,” Morris says.
In “Art,” they hope to provide a performance that will make the audience laugh but also give them food for thought.
As Hayes points out, the subject matter – an object viewed differently by different people – can be an allegory for anything, really.
“Even though this is about art, you could remove the word ‘art’ and insert the word ‘politics’ or ‘religion’ and all of the discussions we have in this show could be about any of those things,” says Hayes, who plays the irritable Marc. “It’s really about the humanity of how we react to that thing, whether it’s art or politics or religion or whatever.”
Hayes, a boisterous man who’s quick to make a joke, notes that Marc’s grumpy personality is nothing like his own, but the show may be rubbing off on him a bit.
“I’m a horrible human being in this play,” he says with a laugh. “… I hate to say this but I have become grumpier since we’ve been doing this show. I’m a happy kind of guy, so no, I can’t relate to him. However, what’s the point in playing something that’s just like yourself?”
Rounding out the cast is Philippe Hall, who plays Yvan. Perhaps Hall is already like his character – calm and well-spoken – or perhaps, like Hayes, Yvan has crept into his personality as well.
“There are no jokes in this show,” he says, “but it’s hilarious. That’s quite a compliment to the author. You go on a real journey through real life with real drama and laugh yourself silly. It’s wonderful.”
An intellectual comedy
Hall refers to “Art” as “intellectual comedy,” a show that doesn’t rely on slapstick or punchlines to be funny. It finds its hilarity in the reality and the way each of the characters perceives that reality.
“Isn’t that what art’s all about?” Hall asks. “Having an individual perspective and opinion about the way something moves you. … What is right? What is the right way to appreciate art? What is the right way to talk to other people? What is the right way to live? And how can we all do it the right way?”
“There’s shades of rightness,” Morris adds.
“I’m writing a new book called ‘Fifty Shades of Right!'” Hayes chimes in.
“Art” is funny, Morris says, because it’s another perspective on drama. He quotes Tracy Morgan by saying that “Comedy is tragedy turned inside out like a sock. Same thing that makes you laugh makes you cry. It all depends on how you look at it.”
And as Hall points out, it’s a perfect analogy for their project.
“This piece is a brilliant comedy, full of substance,” he says. “That is the epitome of what French art and film is about.”
The simplicity (and complications) of three
Hayes notes the smaller scale of the production is beneficial not just for those watching, but for the actors as well.
The three of them got to know each other not just as characters, but as individuals. And it’s an essence that translates through the play as the audience feels how human the characters actually are.
“This play is all about being human beings,” he says.
He adds that people may look at these three characters on the surface and wonder why they’re friends in the first place. But he challenges that mentality, betting that most people have friends who have differing views in one area or another.
“When you look at it from the perspective of the play, you go, ‘This would never happen. How could these three people actually be friends?'” he says. “But we have friends like this that have nothing in common. At all. And yet they’re really good, close friends.”
As well as the trio works together in the show, it has been somewhat trying for Morris, who’s had to direct himself and act in the play.
The acting part, he says, was a treat, especially working with the other two “sensational actors.” But the directing posed more of a challenge. He’d video tape the scenes he was in and watch them back to see exactly what he was doing, and in a play where he’s onstage much of the time, that can be a bit tedious.
And on top of all that, he’s also wearing a producer’s hat.
“It’s hard to do all three, I have to say!” he says with a chuckle.
What’s the takeaway?
“Art” was chosen to entertain and to make people think. So what is it the audiences should take away with them when they leave the Center for the Arts at Kayenta?
The message is to remember that everyone views the world through different eyes, Hays says.
“Don’t be judgey-judgey about how other people perceive life,” he says. “If you just step back and actually try to look at what people’s beliefs are from their perspective, just a little – I mean, sometimes it’s really hard – then it may soften your view and soften your approach to be able to make you a little more human.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m. April 26 – 28, May 2 – 4 and May 9-12; 6:30 p.m. April 29 and May 6
Where: Center for the Arts at Kayenta, 881 Coyote Gulch Court, Ivins
Cost: $30 general admission, $10 students
Tickets and information: 435-674-ARTS, kayentaarts.com.
Read or Share this story: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2018/04/25/friendship-comedy-and-conflict-its-work-art/544364002/
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