That’s a line from a crucial moment in the play Art by Yazmina Reza. I saw the play at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago last week. This was one of the best plays I have seen there in my 10 years as a subscriber (putting aside August: Osage County which is in another category altogether.) Highly recommended.
But it is not for everybody. Sandeep wouldn’t like it for example (then again as documented previously on this blog Sandeep has bad taste.) I wanted to write a review to give a sense of who might like the play and I spent some time thinking about how to convey that, but a conventional review failed to materialize. After a while I realized that the right way to review it is in the form of a dialog between the characters in the play.
There are three characters: Serge, a dilettante who has created some buzz with a painting he just bought, Marc, a friend who is having a difficult time articulating his reaction to said painting, and Yvan who is helplessly caught in the middle. Hit the link below for the review.
The three characters have just walked backstage after the performance of the play Art by Yazmina Reza.
Marc: I still can’t get over the fact that those people paid so much to see this play.
Serge: What are you talking about?
M: Are you saying you don’t know what I am talking about?
S: I am asking you, what are you talking about?
M: That play. You don’t take that play seriously do you?
S: Take it seriously? What is that supposed to mean? Its a play.
M: Stop playing around with these questions. You know exactly what I am getting at. Those people paid good money and sat there watching us do nothing more than have a rambling argument about nothing in particular.
S: How can you say “nothing in particular?” If it was “nothing in particular” why were we so agitated about it? And look at what Yvan went through. Are you going to tell him it was “nothing in particular?”
M: Yvan is a spineless jellyfish. Just because he was nearly brought to tears doesn’t elevate that puppetshow to the level of drama.
Yvan: Please, every night and twice on Sundays I have to go through 90 minutes of your pointless bickering punctuated by cruel coordinated attacks against me, please can I just have some rest from it when we get backstage?
M: Yvan, what do you think of the play?
Y: Obviously those people really enjoyed it.
M: Yvan, that is not what I asked you. Tell us, please, would you pay 200 francs to see that play?
Y: It creates tension, it has interesting characters –
M: Aha, interesting characters. Yvan, really, you think those characters are interesting? What is interesting about them, I really want to know what we learn about people from those characters.
S: Come on Marc, Yvan likes the play, he likes the characters, why does he have to explain what he likes about it? Anyway, why can’t you admit that you just don’t understand contemporary literature? You are bound by classical structure, you have never given a second of thought to the sort of nuances that…
M: That what? Serge, what? What were you about to say, the nuances of what?
S: Post-modern literature.
M: Ha! post-modern literature. I knew it. The way you say that Serge, I just hate the way you say that. There is something about the way you say “post-modern.” Did you hear that Yvan? Did you hear the way his voice assumes that contemptuous tone when he says the word “post-modern.” Its as if he is uttering the secret password to some special club that he has joined and we are not a part of. Well, Serge, you are right, I don’t understand the nuances of post-modern literature, if by post-modern literature you mean the total abandonment of plot, character, and drama in favor of arbitrarily shifting moods unhinged from real emotion. Just the label post-modern is absurd and you know it Serge. I mean what can possibly come after post-modern? You and those ridiculous people in the audience think that you are so different from the rest of us that you can set yourself apart from all of human history with one phrase “post-modern.”
S: You know Marc, you really need to take a look at yourself, I think you are really losing your grip.
M: That may be true, but that doesn’t make the play any less of a joke.
S: Listen, you have said what you think about the play. Those people enjoyed it, Yvan and I appreciate it, and you think its a joke. That’s fine. Let’s leave it at that.
M: Yes, right. You are right Serge. I say I really have been a little surly lately. I do realize that. I am going to try and relax more.
S: You have lost your sense of humor Marc. Your becoming a drag to be around, really.
M: I know what you are saying, I am going to try and lighten up. Yvan, I am sorry.
Y: Can we go have a drink now?