Three best friends are at crossroads in their lives, trying to leave their carefree days behind and move to stability. For Anil the solution is investing in art, and he buys a completely white piece with faint diagonal lines across it, also white. When Mahesh laughs at him, Anil’s ego is hurt and their friendship falls apart. The gentle Devashish tries to play peacemaker, but we won’t spoil it for you by revealing whether it works in the stage play, Art.
Studio 7 has been staging plays for nearly 40 years at the Hotel Vajra, spanning most of the ups and downs of Nepal’s recent history from the Panchayat monarchy to democracy, war and post-conflict transition. Its choice of adapted classics and original works all come with a sharp contemporary message. The latest offering, Art is no different. The original play by Yasmin Reza premiered in 1994 at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and made it to London and Broadway.
The play about three friends starts rather slowly, with introductory scenes setting the characters. But soon, the plot thickens as the friends squabble not just about art, but each other and the very basis of their friendship. The blank canvas is not just a painting but a symbol of their youthful bonding.
Each viewer can take what is important from the production. Some can see it as a satire on how modern, abstract art fetch huge prices but are not understood by anyone but the artist. What is the use of art that cannot communicate with the viewer? What is the rationale behind their high market value? And if they have such a high commercial value, is it necessary for them to be understood?
With very few characters Art’s strength lies in how the characters react to each other and create comic scenes. Anil has turned into a pretentious art hoarder who buys things he may or may not understand, because they are deemed ‘valuable’.
Mahesh, meanwhile, retains a youthful brashness, sneering at everything he does not understand and surprised that Anil has moved on. Trying to agree with them both, Devashish doesn’t know who he is. This is an interesting interplay of characters and friendships that each of us can relate to: how friendships change with time as our tastes and economic status changes. The director is Studio 7 veteran Sabine Lehman who succeeds in creating a fast-paced performance that keeps the small audience at the Vajra engaged throughout.
Raymon Das Shrestha and Karma are not just convincing, but inhabit their roles as a pompous nouveau-riche dentist and a wannabe cool digital entrepreneur respectively. It is the energetic Kundoon who steals the show, as an indecisive and uninspired Pashmina salesman. With an expressive face and on point comic timing, he creates the most realistic character of a Kathmandu Everyman — a city boy struggling to make it big on the back of a rich heiress fiancée.
Director Lehmann and set designer Ludmilla Hungerhuber make a cameo appearance with a satirical song about the ‘ego and arrogance of the boys’, which raises the play’s comic pitch. Hungerhuber has designed a minimalist but pleasing set in which the same architecture is rearranged between acts. Aman Karna’s lively music complements the production, building up to an abstract finale.
As the holiday season approaches, Art will be an evening well spent in Kathmandu.
7:15 PM every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until 30 Dec
Hotel Vajra (01) 4271545