Saturday, March 12, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Correlation or Causality?

The visual arts are getting a boost from the theater world this month. Who knew that two different plays would celebrate the faux painter Antrios! Perhaps celebrate isn’t the right verb. Maybe ‘indict’ is more to the point. Bridge Rep opens MJ Halberstadt’s clever THE LAUNCH PRIZE this week (running through March 20th) and Arts After Hours hosts Yasmina Reza’s ART through March 19th. Antrios passes off an art student’s work as his own in THE LAUNCH PRIZE and he’s painted the controversial white-on-white canvas at the center of Reza’s ART. Busy fellow!

The coveted prize in Halberstadt’s keen, fast paced little play will kick start only one career but four friends have applied for it. Halberstadt constructs four scenarios for us, allowing us to see what could happen in each case, like crime dramas do now on TV. He ramps up the competition by introducing the notion that organizations seem to be reflecting more diversity in their awards (the Academy Awards, notwithstanding.) Is that because of more opportunities for artists of color, he posits, and therefore more excellence OR are awards weighted in favor of diverse artists the way they were for whites in the past?

The four art students in THE LAUNCH PRIZE are conveniently a white male, an African-American woman, an Asian-American woman and a Hispanic male. Despite the predictable posturing and resentments, Halberstadt has created compelling characters who are far more than stand-ins for their genealogy.

Director Tiffany Nichole Greene’s cast is first class, with lively performances from Angela K. Thomas as the driven artist who will postpone her wedding to fulfill the obligations of the prize; from Bari Robinson as the charming, canny operator who is ready to exploit the economic advantages of winning; from Katharine Chen Lerner who refuses to sign her paintings so as not to give away her background; and from John Tracey as the affable “white guy” who sweetly tries but just doesn’t “get it.”

Who knew that ART would prove such a popular play? Arts After Hours’ dazzling production (reviewed earlier) is being followed by Hub Theatre’s production next month, starring IRNE nominees Victor Shopov, Bob Mussett and John Geoffrion. I can’t wait to see their version.