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When friendships splinter

From left: Jason Lythgoe (Serge), Geoff Johnson (Ivan), and Jeff Graves (Marc) perform in “Art,” a contemporary comedy by Yasmina Reza, performed by Merely Players through Sunday. (Courtesy of Merely Players, Kara Calvaca)

“I was looking forward to a relaxing evening after a ridiculously crazed week,” says Ivan toward the end of the contemporary comedy: “Art.” Ivan’s expectation of “meeting my two best friends, going to the movies, having a good time,” has crashed into the reality of caustic differences that threaten a 15-year bond.

In 90 uninterrupted minutes, the Merely Players production of the award-winning dark comedy unspooled last weekend to illuminate the fault lines of modern friendship. As the play opens, playwright Yasmina Reza maps those fault lines by immediately introducing a dilemma. Serge (played with confident charm by Jason Lythgoe) shows Marc (a sharp, intelligently aggressive Jeff Graves) a white-on-white painting he has just bought for an exorbitant price. A major fault line cracks open when Marc mocks the painting and questions his friend’s motives. When the third longtime friend, Ivan (Geoff Johnson’s splendidly high and low-pitched comedic force) enters, the subterranean currents fragment the friendship further.

If you go

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

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: TBK Bank parking lot, 259 W. Ninth Street.

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

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

Last weekend, good-sized audiences filled the parking lot at TBK Bank to witness a most unusual production of “Art.” People brought lawn or camping chairs to sit before a modern-day pageant wagon. On the bed of a truck, Tech Director Charles Ford and his team created a raised 12-foot-by-12-foot playing area. The play calls for a spare modern apartment in which the only thing that changes is the painting on the wall. Ford crafted a rotating flat on which three paintings are seen, representing the three friend’s taste: Serge’s stark avant-garde painting, Marc’s prized view of Carcassonne, and Ivan’s landscape, referred to as “motel-art” until a plaintive reveal suggests a different attachment later in the play.

Director Mona Wood Patterson has fine-tuned this excellent modern comedy with subtle blocking and more importantly, a carefully controlled rise and fall of the temperatures of friendship.

“What binds us together?” one character asks in the midst of a fevered argument. What effect does harsh criticism have on a 15-year bond? How does taste factor in? Are we willing or not to accommodate our friends? These are the issues explored in the play and brought to life so vividly by a company brave enough to perform in the open air, in a parking lot on a flatbed truck, and before an audience that comes on purpose or wanders in from the sidewalk.

“Art” is a bold choice on all accounts. The Players conclude their run this weekend at 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with the final matinee at 3:30 p.m. (to avoid the train passing through town at 5:15) on Sunday.

Bring your own chair and pay what you wish. But don’t miss this extraordinary celebration of summer in Durango.

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