A&E

Powerhouse actor Erik Amblad makes ‘Art’

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Erik Amblad brilliantly plays a people-pleasing pen-pusher caught between warring friends.
Photo: Ryan Reason
Jacob Coakley

Art, by Yasmina Reza, won the Tony for Best Play in 1998 for its story of three friends and their argument over a piece of high-priced conceptual art. This premise might sound slight, but in the superb show from Born and Raised Productions and Ragtag Entertainment now playing at the Box Office in the Arts District, the intellectual arguments quickly escalate into deep divides, providing some of the best emotional knife-fighting this side of Edward Albee. It also proves to be side-splittingly funny—and the platform for a tour-de-force performance by Erik Amblad.

The Details

Art
four stars
January 29, 9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $15
The Box Office, 1129 S. Casino Center Dr., 388-1515

Amblad plays Yvan, a people-pleasing pen-pusher caught between warring friends Serge (played by Geo Nikols), who may have ruined himself buying the painting, and Marc (Dave Surratt) who views the purchase as a personal affront, the last (and most serious) in a long line of insults.

Yvan is derided by both friends as a jellyfish of a man, and Amblad’s expressive, rubbery portrayal wrings every drop of comedy from this description. By turns pathetic, comical and heartbreaking, the range and physicality of his performance is astonishing. He provides a jolt to the long second half of the show and lifts the performances of Surratt and Nikols. Surratt seems trapped by his character’s initial desire to keep things civil; too often he retreats from sharpness into a laconic drawl, and relies on pauses between lines to try and convey the violent subtext. Nikols fares better, but the lack of rhythm between them denies the play its full energy, and at times it lurches instead of thunders to its masterstroke conclusion, a cutting, comical and touching gesture so luminous that any flaws fade in its denouement, and the performers and audience fully inhabit the shared space of art.

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