The ART of frenemy

The latest Thai reimagining of Yasmina Reza's enduring French-language play is an excruciation, sardonic delight

A scene from ART. (Photo: Karan Limparattanakiree)

Would you buy a blank white canvas for 1.2 million baht? That is the starting point of the Thai adaptation of an internationally renowned comedy, ART, which not only satirises the art market but also triggers a conversation about what friendship really is.

Premiering in October 1994, this French-language play by Yasmina Reza became so sensational and phenomenal that it has been translated into 35 languages, performed around the globe during the past 28 years, and garnered Olivier and Tony awards.

First performed in Thai in Bangkok two decades ago, the new adaptation delightfully managed to keep the play's excruciatingly sardonic yet sidesplitting trademarks thanks to well-read localisation of the French/English screenplay and pitch-perfect performances from three big names in Thai theatreland -- Damkerng Thitapiyasak, Nikorn Saetang and Pawit Mahasarinand.

Over the purchase of "a piece of white shit" painting with several fine white lines, long-time companionship among the trio is put to the test. One worships it, another despises it, and another is caught in the middle.

As the play progresses, a regression to frenemy emerges as three BFFs begin bitching about the so-called art, nearly ditching their relationship over long-held personal issues concerning their different backgrounds, preferences and family matters. Every now and then, a scornful conversation on ideological differences and friendly harmony reflects the political conflict in our nation.

The new version opts for using the actors' real names. Acid-tongues Damkerng (or Marc in the original play) succeeds in attacking weaknesses of the other characters, humiliating them on stage.  Damkerng knows how to offer the right balance and not overshadow the other two before resuming with his ball-of-fire energy. Playing a social climber, Pawit (or Serge) stands out with comical timing, offering the right gags at the right time. While his character is challenged to the last ounce of patience, it little by little makes us ponder the meaning of friendship and value of it.

The show stealer, however, is Nikorn Saetang (or Yvan), a founder of the 8x8 troupe. As a character of compromise, he brings tears of laughter with his doomed fate, varying from the conflicts of his upcoming wedding and occupational downturn to his rising hysteria and pushback when the other two gang up on him.

To be able to put three talents from different acting backgrounds on the same stage, actress-cum-director Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon also deserves loud applause. She makes the show alive and anew with her artistic direction and vision, spiced up with homegrown jokes, sharp wit and even some self-mockery probably known only among people in the Thai theatre business.

Chemistry among the three talented actors is the charm of this must-see show, in which the trio navigate a dark and steep alley in order to eventually understand the bright side of companionship and unity -- in the same manner the audience might when they venture into the narrow backstreet to reach the 40-seater venue at GalileOasis Art Space in Wat Phraya Yang Alley on Phetchaburi road.

A relocation of the show this weekend to a new 219-seat venue, Alliance Francaise, will pose real challenge on how to engage a bigger crowd effectively. But with their craftwork, it is quite certain the trio will cook up something special to offer the audience a laugh-a-minute yet thought-provoking theatrical experience.


ART now moves to a new venue at Alliance Francaise, Witthayu Road, until Saturday at 7.30pm. It will be performed in Thai with English and French surtitles. Tickets cost 600 baht (300 baht for members and students) and can be purchased from afthailande.org. For details, call 02-670-4231.



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