What Is Art?

Ian Ziering, one of the blond inhabitants of Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210," is the star attraction of "What Is Art?," a fairly juvenile farce by Wm. S. Leavengood whose bad title begs an acid response: nothing like this play. Ziering plays a man named Art, who wangles his way into a swank N.Y. apartment (his friend Fred happens to be the super) in order to pose as its occupant, art-world darling Akril L'Atexio, thus to gain the sexual favors of French L'Atexio devotee Veronique Ranquet (Marcy Kaplan).

With:
Ian Ziering (Art Angeley), Greer Coursey (Fred Spawn), Marcy Kaplan (Veronique Ranquet), Rhonda Aldrich (Meg Angeley), Thomas Tofel (Sid Stole), Ian Gomez (Biff Shingles), Joy Claussen (Dot Angeley), Helen Cates (Dee Wraith), Adam Paul (Ed), Joseph Della Sorte (Ferdinand Bhrundi).

While he’s putting the moves on Veronique — who turns out to be a Muslim assassin out to avenge L’Atexio’s blasphemous art — Akril’s smarmy agent arrives with an NEA inspector also concerned about the controversial nature of his painting.

Added to the mix are Art’s sister Meg (Rhonda Aldrich), an art gallery owner with a somewhat unlikely crush on Fred; Art’s forgetful mother Dot; manic-depressive artist Dee Wraith (Helen Cates), creator of the phallic sculptures that are the subject of many obvious jokes; and eventually L’Atexio himself, who turns out to be a milquetoast manipulated by his agent.

The humor is of a low order. The Arab assassins are emissaries of the Emir of “Pepsmeer,” and we are not spared the line “Holy Shiite!” Implausibilities of circumstance are the stuff of farce, but attention must be paid to character; here we are expected to find it believable, and even sweetly comic, that the Muslim killer goes soft on Art and ends up in his arms.

Ziering does most of his acting with his eyebrows. They’re handsome, blond eyebrows — like the man himself — but watching them furrow and rise is not endlessly fascinating. To give him the benefit of the doubt, the play’s general insipidity doesn’t require much else.

On the other hand, Kaplan manages to make her ridiculous character charming against all odds, playing each silly twist with wide-eyed conviction. Claussen has some of the play’s funnier bits as Dot, and Tofel is suitably oily as the crass Sid.

Lawrence Cox’s direction accents the obvious, but there’s nothing in the play that doesn’t fit that description.

What Is Art?

Court Theatre; 99 seats; $25 top; Opened Aug. 2

Production: SHME Prods. presents a play in two acts by Wm. S. Leavengood. Directed by Lawrence Cox

Creative: Set, Sets to Go; costumes, Monica Vasquez; lighting, Kent Inasy; sound, Stephen Halbert; casting, Scott David; production stage manager, Kevin Carroll. Opened Aug. 2; reviewed Aug. 9; runs through Sept. 7. Running time: 2 hours, 10 min.

Cast: Ian Ziering (Art Angeley), Greer Coursey (Fred Spawn), Marcy Kaplan (Veronique Ranquet), Rhonda Aldrich (Meg Angeley), Thomas Tofel (Sid Stole), Ian Gomez (Biff Shingles), Joy Claussen (Dot Angeley), Helen Cates (Dee Wraith), Adam Paul (Ed), Joseph Della Sorte (Ferdinand Bhrundi).

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