Authors: Yasmina Reza

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French playwright and actor

Author Works

Drama:

Conversations après un enterrement, pr., pb. 1987 (Conversations After a Burial, 2000)

La Traversée de l’hiver, pr., pb. 1989 (Winter Crossing, 2000)

“Art,” pr., pb. 1994 (English translation, 1996)

L’Homme du hasard, pr. 1995 (The Unexpected Man, 1998)

Trois versions de la vie, pr., pb. 2000 (Life × 3, 2000)

Translation:

La Métamorphose, 1988 (of Franz Kafka’s novella)

Long Fiction:

Une Désolation, 1999

Nonfiction:

Hammerklavier, 1997 (English translation, 2000)

Screenplay:

Le Pique-nique de Lulu Kreutz, 2000

Biography

Yasmina Reza (ray-zuh), one of the newest voices of the international theater, began her drama career as an actress on the French stage, where she explored the work of Marivaux and Molière. Her mother was a Hungarian violinist, and her father was a Persian and Spanish businessman. Her cultured childhood and exotic family history (her father’s family of Jews was forced from Spain and Persia when they refused to convert to Catholicism and Islam) provided Reza with a foundation from which to draw autobiographical sketches of family and artistic conflict. She studied sociology at Paris X University and acting at the Jacques Lecoq Drama School. By the late 1980’s she found acting “not intellectual enough” and her relationship with directors too slavish to freely give utterance to her creative ideas. Thus she wrote her first play, Conversations After a Burial, in 1987. Its performance in France won her the Molière Award for best author, after which it was translated into several languages and performed across Europe.{$I[A]Reza, Yasmina}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Reza, Yasmina}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Reza, Yasmina}{$I[tim]1959;Reza, Yasmina}

Her subsequent work garnered equal acclaim. Winter Crossing, a play about three men and three women savoring the final moments of a summer retreat in the mountains, won the Molière Award for Best Fringe Production. “Art,” which premiered in Berlin and opened in Paris in 1994, won Molière Awards for best author, best play, and best production. In 1995 The Unexpected Man, a mature work about the spoken thoughts of a man and a woman while seated opposite each other on a train, was produced in London and France. The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican in London revived it in 1998 before transferring it to the West End in a highly successful run.

It was her hit play, “Art,” that generated the most enthusiasm and controversy in the international arts and entertainment communities. An intelligent and comical exploration of the nature of male friendship and modern art, it pits three friends against one another when one of them, a dermatologist, buys an all-white modern painting for thirty-six thousand francs, causing one friend to become overtly critical and the other to straddle the fence. The concept was inspired by a real-life encounter when a close friend of the author bought a blank white canvas for which he paid an exorbitant price and proudly displayed it for her. Her initial reaction was to laugh riotously and remark: “It’s great decoration, very cool, but I absolutely don’t understand how it can cost so much money.” Critics in the art community accused Reza of being a philistine because arguments contained within the play questioned the value of modern art. She countered the attack by claiming that she liked modern art but rejected the “fascism of fashion,” experts telling her what she must like. “We make a big mistake in saying that modernity is itself of value.” By contrast, the acting community happily embraced the play’s dominant theme of male friendship. Scottish actor Sean Connery bought the film rights to the play while highly esteemed American stage actors Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro sought roles in the American stage productions.

In her plays “Art” and The Unexpected Man Reza’s vast stage experience directed her writing toward fewer characters and shorter scripts, thus making these productions financially lower-risk and highly profitable. Her penchant for the comedic repartee of “Art” made the play accessible to middle-class patrons who enjoy Neil Simon and Woody Allen, while the underlying serious social and cultural themes that filter through the wit satisfied the sophisticated theatergoers that usually seek the existential conflicts of a French or Russian play. This combination of philosophical argument, wry bourgeois sensibility, and theater savvy has inspired critics to place Reza among dramatists such as Nathalie Sarraute, Harold Pinter, and Arthur Schnitzler.

Critics are divided, however, in their assessment of the long-term value of a tragicomedy such as “Art,” as the tenuous premise of an expensive abstract painting is reminiscent for some of the thin consistency of a television situation comedy. The author herself has acknowledged the attitude of the European intellectual sector that any artist who refuses to subscribe to an ideology as the basis for his or her work is often dismissed as reactionary. The comedic flow of “Art” lends itself particularly to the sensibility of an American audience that laughs easily while feeling sympathetic to the sad undertones of a friendship under the threat of destruction. The consistent success of Reza’s skill with words and wit maintains her place firmly among the most popular playwrights of the United States and Europe.

BibliographyBlume, Mary. “Yasmina Reza and the Anatomy of a Play.” International Herald Tribune, 1998. A good introduction to the genesis of Art, with significant comments from Reza on her father and craft.Danto, Arthur C. “Art, from France to the U.S.” The Nation, June 29, 1998, p. 28. Reveals the significance of “Art” as a commentary on the politics of art and its worth. Danto’s thesis is that Art is an allegory of the search to define what art is and what it is worth.Hill, Diane. “Yasmina Reza: Master of Art.” France Today (1998). A discussion of Art and how it has transformed Reza into an international phenomenon. Also discusses her other plays and memoir to show her artistic development.Hohenadel, Kristin. “Going Beyond Laughs: Yasmina Reza Hopes Her Successful Play Art Can Deliver Insights As Well As Humor to Her Audiences.” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1999, p. 66. Hohenadel interviews Reza before the opening of Art at the James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood, California, in 1999, discussing the audience reaction to the play and her attitude toward writing.Reza, Yasmina. “Going Beyond Laughs: Yasmina Reza Hopes Her Successful Play ‘Art’ Can Deliver Insights as Well as Humor to Her Audiences.” Interview by Kristin Hohenadel. Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1999, p. 66. Hohenadel interviews Reza before the opening of “Art” at the James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood in 1999, discussing the audience’s reaction to the play and her attitude toward writing.
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