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Performing Arts

Merely Players finds another ’found space’

Theater company to stage contemporary French comedy

Three guys, who have been friends for 15 years, plan to meet and maybe go to a movie. For a plot, that sounds almost too simple.

“Art,” a contemporary comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza, is the summer offering by Merely Players and will be performed the first two weekends in June.

The 90-minute work examines the complicated topic of friendship – with a ruse. One of the long-term friends, Serge (Jason Lythgoe) has bought a very expensive contemporary work of art, a white-on-white painting that looks like a blank canvas. The plot thickens.

Serge’s buddies react with anything but admiration and/or understanding. Marc (Jeff Graves) becomes angry; Ivan (Geoff Johnson) is more tepid and cautious. But differences unearth all manner of hidden agendas.

From left, Geoff Johnson, Jason Lythgoe and Jeff Graves star as three buddies on Merely Players’ production of “Art.” (Courtesy of Merely Players)

Reza wrote her comedy-of-manners more than two decades ago, and yet it is evergreen in its comic examination of male friendship. In 1996, when “Art” opened in Paris, it won the Moliere Award. In London, it won the Olivier Award for Best Play, ditto its opening on Broadway in 1998 when it won the Tony. “Art” has been translated into more than 30 languages and performed in 45 countries. Reza’s comedy must have something to say about the human condition.

If you go

WHAT: “Art,” a comedy by Yasmina Reza, presented by Merely Players, directed by Mona Wood-Patterson.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. June 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 and 4 p.m. June 6 and 13.

WHERE: TBK Bank parking lot, 259 W. Ninth St., Durango.

ADMISSION: Pay-what-you-wish, no reservations required.

MORE INFORMATION: Bring a lawn chair. Call 946-7579 or visit www.merelyplayers.us.

“‘Art’ has been on my short list a long time,” said Mona Wood-Patterson, co-founder and artistic director of Merely Players. “I like provocative, intelligent plays with humor. I also like small plays that focus on the intricacies of relationships. The play is about friendship more than about art, and the characters are not the college boys they once were. Friendships fray. There are alliances. And, ‘Art’ is a beautiful acting vehicle.”

Fans of Merely Players productions know that Wood-Patterson has developed a company of seasoned actors. She’s lucky to have three men of the right age with quick comic timing to play the friends.

“Geoff (Johnson) and Jeff (Graves) have known each other since Durango High School,” she said, adding that, among many other offerings, they played Jean Valjean and Javert in “Les Misérables.” Lythgoe most recently acted with his buddies in both light and dark Shakespeare: last summer’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Macbeth,” which closed the week before COVID-19 invaded Colorado.

The truck that will be transformed into a stage for “Art.” (Courtesy of Merely Players)

Reza’s comedy runs about 90 minutes, Wood-Patterson said, “and there will be no intermission.”

What’s most unusual about the production is the setting – another one of Wood-Patterson’s found spaces.

What to expect

When Merely Players presents “Theatre in the Parking Lot,” here’s what to do and expect:

Bring your own chair.

Sit with social distancing in mind..

No reservations required.

Pay what you wish.

Contribute online if you wish.

No dogs.

No concession stands.

No restrooms.

Plan accordingly.

“We approached TBK to see if we could perform outside, possibly in the parking lot,” she said. “They were very gracious and made a new found space possible for us. Among the many challenges would be performing on ground level. People could bring their own chairs, so we didn’t need to build risers. We would still have to strike everything after every performance. That’s a big deal, and there are seven performances.”

Then, a fresh idea fell into place.

“Mike Largent, from Theatre in the Wild, contacted us,” Wood-Patterson said. “He has a truck he uses for traveling performances. He said his truck could be available in early June. It’s wonderful. It’s like the old pageant wagons that travel around and come to a town to perform with players, props and some scenery.”

Still, the problem of turning a 12-by-12-foot playing space in the back of an open truck into an urban apartment remained. Technical Director Charles Ford figured out a creative solution, which has to be seen to believed.

“As a company, we’ve been so hungry to perform live theater again,” Wood-Patterson said. “We’ve all been vaccinated. At first, we rehearsed on Zoom, then we got together in person, and now, we’ll open June 4.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.