Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

“Art” premiered in Berlin and opened in 1994 in Paris, where foreign rights were bought by actor Sean Connery. It won the Molière Award for Best Play, Best Production, and Best Author. The play proved its international appeal by collecting the 1996 Evening Standard Award, London’s Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1997 and the 1998 Tony Award, as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play during performances on Broadway, and the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Drama League nominations for Best Play.

As critics have remarked, not since the social satires of Jean Anouilh in the 1950’s has a French playwright so triumphed in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. Reza has been called “the superstar of European theater.” British dramatist Christopher Hampton, who translated “Art,” compares her minimalist writing with that of British playwright Harold Pinter.

Reza’s plays can also be compared with the painful dramas of Samuel Beckett. Her characters are full of folly and foibles, seeking recognition from others when they lack confidence; she has told interviewers, “I have no faith in humanity.” Her plays, though pervaded with a sense of loss, are more hopeful than Beckett’s, however, and more easily accessible to audiences because their wit is less existential and more mundane. Reza was surprised when “Art” was received everywhere as a comedy. She was also offended when she heard that a new expression had been invented to describe her work: “The big idea lite.” Her response was that her accessibility had been mistaken for banality:I don’t want to compare myself with the greatest playwrights but Shakespeare, Molière, Racine, all the great ones were very, very accessible. And the fact that they became classics was because they were accessible. My writing is very complex . . . but complex and funny, complex and entertaining.