What does art mean to you? What does art mean to a community? How do we quantify its benefits? What effect does it have on our lives? How do we make it accessible to everyone? Why does it matter?
Those are some of the many questions posed in Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “Art,” which the Belfast Maskers is staging this weekend and next at the Maskers Waterfront Theater. The show is directed by Tobin Malone and stars Erik Perkins, Jason Bannister and Jim Tatgenhorst as Serge, Marc and Yvan, three friends whose relationship is forever altered by an expensive piece of abstract art.
Relationship to art is a theme that extends beyond the stage. Belfast’s own community identity is deeply intertwined with its relationship to its local theater, poetry, music or visual art. “Art,” the play, is an apt pick to kick off the Maskers’ 2011 season, as it dives headfirst into the big questions surrounding artistic value and also explores the nature of friendship.
“It’s incredibly well-written, and it’s caustic and funny at the same time,” said Aynne Ames, artistic director of the Maskers. “I think it’s a good play for Belfast, because, as some would say, it’s all about art, art, art here. Some people feel excluded from it, some people are wrapped right up in it, and some people don’t know what to make of it. This play really explores that.”
In the play, Serge excitedly purchases a piece of very expensive abstract art. Marc is appalled by the amount of money his friend spent on what he deems to be a worthless piece of junk. Yvan, under the gun in his job and his impending marriage, tries desperately to appease the two. “Art” is as much about people’s relationships to art as it is about what makes and breaks a friendship.
“Art exposes in you what you wouldn’t normally say out loud,” said Ames. “It brings things out in you that you might be surprised by. It’s all about relationships, with each other and with art and with the world around you.”
A look at the rest of the Maskers’ coming season shows that after “Art” comes “Dancing at Lughnasa,” directed by Ames’ son Matthew Ames, who is a theater professor at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. “Lughnasa” opens June 30 and runs two weekends through June 9. Also a Tony Award-winning play, written by Brian Friel, it is set in County Donegal in Ireland, in 1936. It tells the story of sisters Kate, Maggie and Christina Mundy (Mainers Laura C. Box, Cate Davis and Marian Macho) through the eyes of Christina’s son Michael (James Clayton), who as a narrator is a grown man. It’s a time of turmoil for Ireland, which in 1936 recently had gained independence from England, and it’s a time of turmoil for the sisters, who have their own romantic and familial troubles.
“It’s a slice of life, and a memory piece, which, like ‘Picnic’ last year, people really enjoy,” said Ames, referring to last year’s Maskers production of the William Inge play.
“Lughnasa” will feature the first crop of interns that Ames has recruited from colleges across the country, including Clemson University in South Carolina, Bennington College in Vermont, Loyola University in Louisiana and Dean College in Massachusetts, as well as one intern from a university in Greece. Interns live in a boardinghouse in Belfast for part of the summer, preparing and performing two of the summer shows. Interns this year include actors Ryan McCary of Clemson, Emma Grimsley of Loyola and Angela El Ziend of Greece, and technical interns Kyle Porter of Dean College and Marika Shyduroff of Bennington.
“Lughnana” will be performed on the Steamboat Landing outdoor stage, now in its second year on the Belfast Waterfront. The stage, designed by longtime Maskers collaborator John Bielenberg, also will be the site of the summer musical, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” The show will open on July 28 and run for 10 consecutive nights.
“I’m drawing on Monty Python, the Three Stooges and the Keystone Kops for this one,” said Ames, who will direct “Pirates.” “It’s going to be silly and slapstick and lots of fun.”
Actors in “Pirates” include interns Ryan McCary and Emma Grimsley as star-crossed lovers Frederic and Mabel, he a tender-hearted pirate, she the daughter of the Major-General, played by Randy Nicholas of Belfast. The Pirate King, played by Nate Oldham, will release Frederic from his bondage, only to discover that it may not be possible. It’s Gilbert and Sullivan, so it’s light, comical and perfect fare for a warm summer night outside. For both “Lughnasa” and “Pirates,” set design is by Stephen Wickenden, lighting and sound is by Neal Harkness, Natalya Lesley designs costumes and Jamie Hagedorn is music director.
In between “Lughnasa” and “Pirates,” the Maskers will host a USO Tribute Show on the Fourth of July at the American Legion Hall on High Street. It will be a variety show, like a traditional USO show, with proceeds benefiting veterans organizations. After “Pirates,” the next show is a production of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed series of dramatic monologues, “Talking Heads,” which features an array of older, female actresses from the Belfast area. The season will close out with the Maskers Talent Search in early October, and a Christmastime performance of “Anne of Green Gables.”
Belfast Maskers general admission tickets are: adults $15; teens $10; children 12 and under $5. All Thursday indoor shows are $8. “Pirates of Penzance” tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for teens; all Thursday outside shows are $10. For a full schedule of showtimes, visit belfastmaskers.com. Tickets may be purchased at the box office one hour before showtime, or by calling 338-9668.