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These Women Critique More Than Just the Art


"Art" is making the rounds. Yasmina Reza's fun and feisty polemical play, which won a 1996 Tony in its English translation (by Christopher Hampton) and other awards in Europe in its original French, was presented by Santa Barbara's Ensemble Theatre last season and is on the upcoming Rubicon Theatre roster. Through this weekend, catch the Santa Paula Theater Center production, in which an all-female cast (as opposed to the usual male cast) has great fun with its coursing river of language and ideas.

In the Santa Paula version, we're witness to a few white chicks sittin' around, talkin' about contemporary art. Of course, subtext is important here, and the play emphasizes the relative fragility of social relations and the subjectivity of cultural experience. The often catty banter between three friends only partly revolves around opinions of a certain painting, a white-on-white canvas for which Sasha (Leslie Nichols) has paid 200,000 francs.

Broadly speaking, the balance of personalities has Sasha as the cool, sometimes haughty art aficionado, intolerant of aesthetic intolerance. Her friend Marc (Lorraine MacDonald) is the rational one, channeling skepticism about contemporary art into sniping sarcasm and a scatological one-word review of the painting.

The quirkily ambivalent Yvonne (Kim Little) mediates the bickering friends, trying to make peace but also joining in backbiting. Little digs into her role and has some scene-stealing moments, including a whirlwind, breathless account of a wedding invitation psychodrama and a later emotional outburst. The crowd reflexively applauds, and Sasha blandly admonishes her, "could we steer clear of pathos?"

The engaging cast is directed with a spare effectiveness by directors Gerald Castillo and Linda Livingston. Economical lighting enlivens the single set, and the canvas in question is moved about as an integral prop.

But the real point of focus is language, flung about like paint in a Pollock action painting, and with a similar resistance to easy interpretation.

* "Art," through Sunday at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St., Santa Paula. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $10 for children 10 and younger; (805) 525-4645.


Structural Sights: Tucked up just off Main on Fir Street in Ventura, the John Nichols Gallery/Live Oak Gallery is a pleasant weekend gallery space with a view--and dual intentions. The current two-fer exhibition is a good example.

Up front is the intriguing photography show "Shooting Buildings," with imagery of architecture and structures. Some of the best images are "found" snapshots, culled from Nichols' collection.

In the back of the gallery, watercolorist Susan Stoutz heeds an approach in which prettiness and the celebration of idyllic landscapes rule. She has a soothing, seeping style, in which details merge with vaporous washes of color to create a sense of place, in paintings such as "Las Posas Valley" and "Montana Homestead."

Stark contrast separates her romantic lean from the unexpected scruffy charm of a snapshot like "Smiling Man and Tent." In it, a long-haired, suit-donning hobo stands before his makeshift tent, exuding humble bohemian splendor.

A different, desolate splendor hovers over the tiny snapshot called "Western Town," perhaps the finest photo in the house.

Another highlight is the deceptively casual "Man at Door," from the Hedrick-Blessing Studio. Mystery becomes this shot of a man entering a sunbaked Chicago building. The darkness of his attire and angular shadow on a light building facade help to pique curiosity about intrigue that is probably not there and also helps it work on visual intrigue alone.

* "Shooting Buildings" and "From the Mountains to the Sea," through Sunday at Live Oak Gallery, 40 N. Fir St., Ventura. Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 p.m.; (805) 643-2583.

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