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The Art of Friendship

by David New and ensemble member Rick Snyder

Associate Artistic Director David New and Ensemble Member Rick Snyder discuss the fine (and complicated) art of friendship
David New: What was your first impression of the play? Rick Snyder: Well, you think it’s a discussion about a painting, but the conversation slowly—and poignantly—reveals the workings of this long-standing friendship among three men. It reveals that the perceptions of who we are, and why we’re friends, are often inaccurate. I found it surprisingly moving at the end: the suggestion that if a friendship is valuable and we love our friends enough, then we compromise and sacrifice for the other person. DN: And that’s the parallel, right? Maintaining friendship is ultimately an art itself; it’s an artistic collaboration. There’s an art to being friends that requires sacrifice, compromise and nuance. RS: It struck me that as human beings, almost all of our self-awareness and our perceptions of ourselves are based on others’ reactions, or maybe our own perceptions of others’ reactions to us. It’s interesting that the relationship between actors and the audience is very much like friendship: the actor needs the perception of the audience to feel fulfilled. And it turns out that the perceptions these guys have of why they’re friends are not entirely accurate and that’s a bit of a revelation. In many ways, the closer we are to people, the less we know of them. DN: Yes, and we have a kind of strange presumption, don’t we, that as friends we have to own a shared perception of each other. RS: Yeah. DN: And so, when you get some information that conflicts—for instance, if you go to see a play with a friend, and you think an actor is terrible, and they start raving about them after the performance—it’s difficult for us to reconcile that sometimes. We think, “Wait a minute, you thought what?” RS: Yeah: “I thought we liked the same stuff, I thought you were my friend, I thought we viewed things the same way!” DN: And what happens when there’s a disparity? When you can’t decide on the same restaurant? When a friend wants to vote for a different presidential candidate than you? RS: Exactly. What do we often do in that situation? Often instead of disagreeing with that person, we tend to say, “Oh, he thinks this, well, maybe I ought to just temper my response because I don’t want to alienate my friend.” That dynamic goes on all the time. Because we base a lot of our perceptions of ourselves on the reactions of others—it’s the only mirror we have sometimes—it’s why we dress up to go out, and want to be liked, even by strangers. In a friendship, that’s heightened. I think a lot of friendships and relationships exist because we’re receiving the perceptions of ourselves that we want, that fulfill us, from the other person. And when that perception we’ve come to expect is not there, it hurts, and we start doubting ourselves. DN: Right. Well that’s interesting, because the painting at the center of this story is essentially a white canvas. It’s all about the person’s perception of and response to it. RS: When you are dealing with an art form, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everybody has a different perception of what is good, and the play makes a big statement about that: each person has the right to like what they like and they’re not wrong. You can’t disagree with an instinct. DN: Well, I guess what raises the stakes that you’re talking about, in this case, is that Serge didn’t buy the painting for a modest sum. There’s something about the value of the painting, in terms of money, that causes Marc to have the reaction that he does. The disagreement might not come to a head quite as it does if it was merely, “Oh, I paid thirty francs for it, and I like it in the living room.” Marc might disagree with that, but it would probably not drive the stake into the friendship between the two of them in the way it does as a result of the exorbitant amount of money Serge paid for it. RS: It certainly makes the purchase of the painting more important. What has really happened—and it gets slowly, slowly pared down—is that Serge purchased the painting without consulting Marc. And that’s simply what is at the heart of the thing—not the money, not the painting itself. It’s that he didn’t consult his friend. DN: It’s intimated in the play that Marc has been responsible for cultivating an artistic point of view in Serge. Marc sees himself as more of an expert and counselor. RS: Exactly—a mentor. So when the student goes off and decides that the mentor is no longer needed, that hurts. DN: Well, that brings us to the question: How do we handle it when our friends change, and how much do we need them to stay the same? How much do we allow our friends to grow, or our spouses to grow and change, and how much are we responsible for keeping each other within the parameters we’re comfortable with? RS: Again, if the relationship is valuable enough, then we sacrifice and compromise without the other person even knowing. In some cases it’s important enough that you just let something go—you don’t give your honest opinion—because you know it’s important to that person that you feel the same way they do about things. DN: There’s something kind about that. RS: Oh, yeah. There are people that probably will go, “That’s terrible, you ought to be yourself, that’s not being honest,” but we do that all the time. I mean, how often do you sit in a meeting and think, “I totally disagree with that, that’s a lot of nonsense”—but you don’t say it! And in a relationship it becomes even more important, to spare the other person’s feelings. Serge hurts Marc’s feelings but he ultimately wants Marc’s approval of the purchase of the painting. Not only does Marc not give his approval, his reaction to the purchase is pretty violent, and it hurts Serge too. DN: That’s interesting. So really, the fight wouldn’t even be possible if they didn’t care so much about each other. Their grievance is based on caring deeply about the other person and what the other person thinks of them. RS: Exactly. Things are set in motion because there’s an emotional response to an event that puts the friendship in jeopardy. DN: It’s interesting to note that Marc says that the “change” in Serge began when he used the word “deconstructionism.” In a way, the play deconstructs friendship. It looks at all of the different components, and timing, and tells us something about the nature of friendship by taking it apart, looking at its different components, and re-assembling it. RS: I totally agree. Like I said earlier, the conversation evolves, slowly and poignantly, in a way that reveals the workings of this friendship, and in doing so, perhaps gives us insights into the nuance of relationships in general.