Playwright: Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. At: Amazing Sammo Productions at Gorilla Tango, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 773-598-4549; www.gorillatango.com; $18. Runs through: Aug. 29 ( Saturdays only )
Seldom has the adage about beauty and the eye of the beholder been illustrated more often, or in as many ways, as it has since Yasmina Reza wrote her deceptively simple little play in 1994. Her characters have their analogs in every culture the world over, transcending differences in ethnicity, nationality, religious belief, age, gender and social station. Her source of conflict is likewise interchangeable with any property, physical or spiritual, thought to reflect upon the owner.
The plot is as minimal as the white-on-white abstract painting by a fashionable artist that Serge has recently purchased. Marc, his comrade of 15 years, thinks the acquisition a waste of moneyand says so. Their younger sidekick, Yvan, tries to reconcile the two, only to meet with their combined wrath. As hostilities escalate, it becomes apparentto us, anywaythat the expensive canvas is merely a catalyst for the insecurities engendered by upheaval in their respective lives. Marc has a new girlfriend obsessed with homeopathic hygiene, Serge's ex-wife is demanding that he play a bigger role in his children's activities, and Yvan has just taken a job with the uncle of the woman he is to marry in two weeks. With so many changes looming on the horizonnow with the addition of this inexplicable expenditure by someone they thought they knew wellwhat will become of their comfortable camaraderie?
Many theater companies display similarly hasty judgment in their approach to this play. Instead of embracing the universality of its scenario, they see in its French author and English translator an excuse to trot out their best P.G. Wodehouse accents in service of the frozen-lipped intellectual detachment we Yanks assume to be the hallmark of European comedy.
That's not true of the Amazing Sammo ensemble, however. Its may adhere to such textual regionalisms as francs, the Pompidou museum and the craze for Lyonnaise cuisine but, under the direction of Sam Radom, the discourse quickly assumes the tone, inflections and colloquialisms of urban U.S. vernacular.
Along with this vocabulary also come the extravagant emotions permitted to actors in our Land of Liberty. Far from diminishing the stakes in this 90-minute parable of human folly and reaffirmation, however, the subsequent freedom of expression facilitates the dramatic tension, so that Serge's decision to sacrifice his prized possession for the sake of his friends takes on a visceral depth and significance rarely evidenced in more formal productions. You have only two more chances to see this one. Use them.