Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
A new play knows it's hard to give feedback to pals
Sofia Alvarez remembers when her brother-in-law once came back from a friend's art exhibit.
"I asked how it was, and he just shrugged and said, 'Meh. Friend art.' And I thought, 'Oh my God. That's an amazing coinage. I'm stealing that.'"
Five years later, Friend Art is currently having its world premiere at Second Stage Uptown's McGinn/Cazale Theatre.
"I was originally interested in that as a comedy concept," says the playwright. "We've all been in situations when you go to a show because you know people involved, not because you think it's going to be a transformative experience or even something you might enjoy. If you live around the arts, it's a pretty universal phenomenon."
Alvarez started writing scenes based on this premise when she was in in grad school at Juilliard in 2011. But the play – as well as the playwright – have evolved. "It took me a long time to write because I had some living to do," she says. She went from grad school to working on television to working day jobs "like being a nanny and hosting to make money -- and being a playwright on the side. And then to being a full-time professional writer where I was actually making a living from it. I also had to grow up as an artist [and] there was some relationship growing up to do. All that is in the play. I guess it's a play about growing up."
Meanwhile, the script has grown far beyond the awkward experience of seeing mediocre work. "It became a lot about the role of honesty in friendship and what being honest does to a friendship," Alvarez says. "It's also about learning when you've outgrown your friends and yet not wanting to let go of them."
The characters in the play are "all at varying points of failure," including a musician (played by Constantine Maroulis) who was in a one-hit-wonder alt-rock band and is now wondering what to do with the rest of his life. "There's success and failure wound up in that character," Alvarez notes.
The rocker's ex-girlfriend is a much younger 24-year-old performance artist who's just starting out. This makes her the opposite of her boyfriend, Alvarez says. "Everything is still exciting to her because she hasn't been through the ringer yet."
There's also a thirtysomething couple: a woman who wanted to be an actress when she moved to New York but has given it up to live a more conventional lifestyle, and her fiancé who is about to go to law school. He has never attempted to be an artist, and he is having an early mid-life crisis.
Alvarez herself, of course, is a young artist, and like some of her characters, she's just starting to make her way in the world. That means she'll be asking her loved one to come support her – to come see her "friend art" for themselves. She's well aware of the irony. "I am inviting all my friends to come see this play," she says. "So it's a bit of snake eating its tail. I rather enjoy the meta-ness of that."
Photos by Joan Marcus. Top photo: The cast of Friend Art.