The Art of Conflict and Friendship

On March 30th, my best friend and I went to see the play called Sanat (originally called Art), written by French playwright Yasmina Reza in 1994 and translated into Turkish by Gencay Gurun, in ODTU KKM. It was inspired by a real event where Reza’s good friend Serge Goldzal, to whom the play is dedicated, bought a white painting and when he showed it to Reza, she said that he was insane and they laughed together. The play depicts the hypothetical dialogues between the friends that could have taken place had they not laughed off Reza’s comment. It was directed by Atilla Sendil and starred only 3 male actors: Hakan Gercek, Bekir Aksoy and Ruzgar Aksoy. The auditorium, Kemal Kurdas Hall, was quite large and stylish with comfortable red chairs and wooden floor. The play started immediately at 8 o’clock as it was said on the leaflet, even though a few people were still trying to get to their seats when the play began. It was a single act play that lasted for approximately 80 minutes.
The play is about three best friends, Serge, Marc and Ivan, and how their friendship is nearly ruined because of a painting on a completely white large canvas with three white lines scattered across it. Serge, who is a refined modern art-lover, buys this painting for 20,000 Euros and proudly shows it to his best friend Marc, who is an egotistical engineer. Upon seeing the painting, Marc vulgarly describes it as “a white piece of shit” which deeply irritates and offends Serge who claims that he can envision a variety of colors and images on the painting because it all comes down to perception. Marc on the other hand, thinks that Serge bought the ridiculously expensive painting simply to show off and pretend that he truly appreciates art. They both decide to ask their other friend Ivan, who is an insecure middle class salesman, for his opinion on the painting. Ivan, reluctant to go against neither friend, mocks the painting and Serge with Marc while telling Serge that he thinks the painting is beautiful and that he really likes it. When the three friends come together, Ivan’s white lies are exposed and they all engage in a fierce argument over their respective opinions on the painting. However, the argument gets more and more personal as each friend starts screaming to the others the qualities that he hates most about them. Marc claims that he is actually annoyed by the fact that Serge no longer admires him, while Serge accuses Marc of having lost his sense of humor and not being modern. Meanwhile, Ivan is already troubled by his fiancée’s nagging and his own failures in life, and now he is torn between his best friends with whom he is supposed to relax and have fun. After a fierce fight they eventually cool off and Serge hands Marc a pen and asks him to draw whatever he likes on the painting, thus proving that their friendship matters more to him.

At various points, for instance right at the start of the play, the actors started up a monologue in which they directly address the audience where they try to justify what they think and do, and complain to us about one another. This created a bond between us and the characters that allowed us to sympathize with each of them on different levels. Despite the uncomfortable relationship between the characters and the tense atmosphere it created, everyone in the audience was quite amused by their quarrel, which is supposed to be distressing. Everyone often chuckled at their sarcastic and mocking remarks. For example, when Ivan came in late to their gathering and first apologetically, then hysterically started to explain in one breath how he was torn between his fiancée and his mother quarreling over the wedding invitations, his frustrated discharge of emotions received great laughter and applause from the audience. The audience also laughed and applauded when the actor who played Marc accidentally broke the chair he was sitting on and almost fell. To my surprise, he was so embarrassed that he couldn’t stop grinning and had to bend his head and hide his face, and when he finally managed to fix his chair, he gave a thumbs up to the audience who was still applauding. Instead of thinking it was an unprofessional act, everyone was amused by this sincere and spontaneous moment. In one scene, while the characters were having a heated argument yet pretended to be casual, Ivan abruptly screamed out that maybe they shouldn’t hang out anymore if they hated each other so much. The characters, as well as the audience and especially I, were petrified and surprised by this sudden remark which was true and logical, yet unexpected from a character that was afraid to share his true emotions for fear that he might hurt someone.
Since it portrayed scenes and moments from three friends’ everyday lives, it was a realistic play. Surely everyone in the audience could somehow relate to the characters and think about their own selves and friends and their relationships. Since the theme of friendship constitutes a big part of anyone’s life, certain moments and dialogues between the friends reminded us of certain personal memories. While watching the play, I realized I had friends like these men: a cultivated and sophisticated friend who is a bit self-important like Serge, an arrogant and critical friend like Marc, and a friend who remains passive and reluctant to speak his mind in order to please others around him, like Ivan. I also noticed that I myself too, shared some qualities with all of the characters in certain situations in my personal life. The mood of the play was sarcastic, realistic but comical throughout the play, just like scenes from our own personal lives. The theme of art was also questioned as the characters gave their own opinions and interpretations on what art is or should (or should not) be; it also introduced the idea that friendship itself is an art.

In addition to the simplicity of the cast which consisted of only three people, the decorations were also minimalistic. The whole play was set in Serge’s living room in his apartment, where there was a white carpet, three white chairs around a white coffee table, a white wooden bar at the back, a white standing lamp, and a couple of white modern art decorations on the wall; the infamous white painting was also displayed almost the entire play. Basically, the color white dominated the whole play; it signified minimalism, and the pure and simple nature of friendship. However, most of the white objects never remained clean and tidy until the end; the coffee table was extremely messy with snack plates and glasses of alcohol, the characters threw peanuts and snacks at the chairs while fighting, and at the very end Marc tainted the painting by smudging a couple of black lines which he made into a stickman skiing down a mountain on it. This act of drawing on the painting symbolized forgiveness and the importance of friendship. It also introduced the idea that while their friendship became stained with scorn and hatred, the actual stains on the canvas symbolized reconciliation and made everything right again. After the surprising scene of Marc drawing on the painting, the scene ended but each character gave a short individual speech reflecting on what happened afterwards. Marc said that he told Serge that he was sorry he despised him and drew on his expensive painting, while Serge said that he told Marc it was not important because he knew how to get the stain off with club soda and detergent, yet he never told him that because he didn’t want to be a pedant. Ivan, who surprised and amazed the audience with his overwhelmed and pitiful nature, was addressing his psychiatrist in his final speech, where he told him that their reconciliation made him cry out of joy. I was very moved by these speeches because the characters had decided to make sacrifices and an effort to make their relationship work. 

The lighting was also minimalistic, with a simple lamp at the corner of the living room that gave out a dim light. There was no music or sound effects throughout the play. The characters wore everyday clothes: the “elite” characters Serge and Marc wore casual black suits and white shirts, while the middle-class Ivan wore jeans and an ugly sweater. In every way, from the decorations and costumes to the plot and dialogues, the play brilliantly reflected ordinary scenes from ordinary moments from ordinary relationships of friendship.

                                                                                               Zeynep Ciger

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