Marc and Serge are at Serge’s apartment. Serge tells Marc that Yvan liked the Antrios. Marc asks to take another look at it, and Serge excitedly goes to fetch it from the other room. When he returns, he places it in front of Marc, and the two consider it. After a moment, Serge tells Marc that they need not worry about the painting. He picks up a book from his coffee table—De Vita Beata, by the ancient philosopher Seneca, a text which describes happiness as the pursuit of reason—and asks if Marc has read the “masterpiece.” Serge tells him that the text is “incredibly modern,” and perhaps the only text in the canon of literature and philosophy one needs to read. Serge explains that lately, as he is so busy juggling his relationship with his ex-wife and his children, whom he sees only rarely, that he is drawn to the “essentials.”
In this passage, it seems as if Marx and Serge are both trying to bridge the gap between them by being more considerate of the other. Marc volunteers to give the painting another look, and Serge, though excited, insists that ultimately it doesn’t matter—he wants to move on from the painting and bond about other things. His attempt to change the subject, however, is yet another venture into pretension—though an unintentional one. Serge is trying to share some things about his life with his old friend, but Serge has become much more wrapped up in lofty ideas about art and literature than he ever was before, and this rubs Marc the wrong way.
Marc jokes that this is evident from Serge’s choice of a painting that eliminates form and color. Serge teases Marc back about the landscape hanging in Marc’s own apartment, disdainfully describing the paining as “pretty.” Marc confesses to Serge that the other day, while driving, he found himself wondering whether there was something deeply poetic about Serge’s “surrendering to [the] incoherent urge to buy.” Marc apologizes for being thin-skinned, tightly-wound, and for overreacting to Serge’s purchase. Serge urges Marc to read Seneca as a balm against his anxiety and tension.
Marc and Serge can’t even have a normal conversation anymore—any dialogue between them, however banal, is full of slights, digs, and small cruelties about the choices the other has made in his life.
Marc points out that he is “capable of being really annoyed” by Serge’s telling him to read Seneca. Serge admits to being superior and obnoxious, but also argues that Marc has misread his tone—he wasn’t meaning to be superior, but instead genial and helpful. Serge tells Marc that Marc has just completely lost his sense of humor—even Yvan, he says, agrees with him. Marc is hurt by this. He takes a homeopathic capsule, and Serge teases him for doing so. Serge asks Marc if he thinks Yvan has lost weight; Serge speculates that the wedding is “eating away at [him.]”
Serge points out the crux of the problem between himself and Marc. Because there is some sort of underlying tension between them, they have lost their senses of humor with one another, and now even well-meaning, helpful advice is perceived as condescension, pretension, or competition.
Marc asks Serge where he is planning to hang the painting. Serge says he hasn’t decided. Marc asks Serge if he is going to have the painting framed, but Serge laughs, and tells Marc that the painting is not “supposed” to be framed—the artist would not want the painting interrupted. Marc teases Serge for referring to Antrios as “the artist,” but then quickly changes the subject, asking what they are going to go see at the cinema that night. Serge laments that it’s now eight, and everything decent will already have started. He cannot believe that Yvan is always late. Marc suggests leaving without Yvan and going to dinner. Serge agrees, but then asks Marc what he meant when he made fun of him for saying “the artist.”
Marc cannot stop drawing attention to the Antrios—it is all he can think about. When his seemingly well-meaning question is answered by a seemingly well-meaning response, there is still something about Serge’s answer that rubs him the wrong way, and he attempts to needle Serge yet again for speaking in a way he sees as pretentious.
Marc tells Serge that he thought Serge referred to “the artist” as if he were a god. Serge counters that, for him, Antrios is a god. Serge exclaims that at the famous Pompidou museum, there are three Antrios pieces—but his, he says, is better than any of them. Serge then swiftly changes the subject, telling Marc that if Yvan doesn’t show up in the next three minutes they should head to dinner. Marc accuses Serge of being jumpy. Serge admits he’s irritated by Yvan’s lack of punctuality. Marc then points out that Serge is simply taking out his own anger at Marc, who is getting on Serge’s nerves, on the poor Yvan. Serge tells Marc that Marc is not getting on his nerves.
Marc and Serge find themselves struggling to get to the root of the problem between them. What keeps happening between the two is that Serge says something Marc finds ridiculous and then challenges, but which Serge, when challenged, professes to truly and sincerely believe. As the two sense a pattern emerging, Serge attempts to change the subject, and deflect away from the fact that he is as upset as he is with Marc.
Serge steps forward and addresses the audience. He admits that Marc is, in fact, getting on his nerves—the tone of Marc’s voice is ingratiating and irritating, as if Marc is forcing himself to be pleasant. Serge wonders if the Antrios has triggered feelings of “constraint” between the two friends—if Marc is angry that Serge has bought something without consulting him.
Marc steps forward and addresses the audience. He, too, wonders whether the purchase of the Antrios has driven a wedge between him and Serge. He feels, though, that the rift started some time ago, when the two of them were discussing a piece of art and Serge unironically used the term “deconstruction.” When Marc needled Serge for his humorless use of the pretentious term, Serge grew angry, and asked Marc what he thought made him so special. Marc now feels that on that day he should have punched Serge in the mouth and asked him, once he was lying “half-dead” on the ground, what sort of friend he was if he didn’t think his friends were special.
While Serge feels that all of their problems are due to Marc’s anger over the Antrios, Marc feels that he has been watching Serge devolve into pretentiousness and egoism for a long time now. The two of them have been struggling to relate to one another with a sense of humor for a while—they have both grown so caught up in their egos that they can no longer laugh with one another, take themselves less than seriously, or see one another as special and valued.
The doorbell rings. It is twelve minutes past eight—Yvan is over half an hour late. Serge lets Yvan in, and Yvan enters, in crisis mode. In an extended monologue, he describes the problem he’s currently facing: both his and Catherine’s stepmothers want their names on the wedding invitations. While Catherine adores her stepmother, who brought her up after her birth mother’s death, Yvan despises his stepmother. Catherine wants her stepmother’s name on the invitation, but Yvan does not want his stepmother’s to be—his mother is still alive. This has created a problem with Yvan’s father, who does not want his name on the invitation if his wife’s is not as well.
Yvan serves to distract from the breakthrough Marc and Serge were seemingly about to make as they privately confronted their issues with one another. Yvan’s drama concerning his wedding invitations is something that is happening in real life and stands to deeply affect him and those he loves, whereas everything Marc and Serge have been arguing about is, more or less, abstract pretension.
When Yvan suggested excluding all parents’ names from the invitation and simply printing his and Catherine’s, Catherine argued that it would be disrespectful to her parents—who are paying for the wedding—to leave them off the invitation. Yvan called his mother just before leaving the house to warn her that his stepmother’s name would have to appear on the invitation, and begged her not to make things difficult, but she took offense and expressed her anger at having been left out of much of the wedding planning. Yvan hurried off the phone.
Yvan’s story about being caught between the many women in his life offers evidence of him as someone who is so desperate to please the people he loves that he often finds himself actually hurting them—and himself. Yvan is not egoistic in the same way Marc and Serge are, but others’ conception of him is very important to him, and he wants to always be seen as doing the right thing.
Catherine, who had been sitting beside him in the room and had only heard his half of the conversation, asked what was going on. When Yvan revealed that his mother was being difficult about the wedding, Catherine became angry all over again, and insisted Yvan dial his mother back and demand that she “rise above her vanity” and stop making things more difficult for the two of them. When Yvan called his mother back, she lambasted him for getting married at all and thus forcing her to spend an entire evening with her ex-husband and his new wife. Yvan told his mother she was being selfish, and then attempted to get off the phone by explaining to her that he was late to meet some friends.
Yvan’s attempts to calm down both his mother and Catherine backfire. Yvan is attempting to keep everyone’s opinions of him just as they have always been, but by trying to please everyone he winds up pleasing no one, and just gets his mother and Catherine agitated. This debacle foreshadows what is to come as he hops out of the frying pan and into the fryer, arriving in the midst of Marc and Serge’s similarly petty fight.
Serge asks what happened next. Yvan reveals that nothing happened—nothing has been resolved, and after a brief “mini-drama” with Catherine, he left the house to come meet the two of them. Marc asks Yvan why he lets himself be bossed around by so many women. Serge tells Yvan he’s lost weight, and Yvan answers that of course he has—he’s stressed beyond belief. Marc snidely suggests that Yvan read Seneca’s De Vita Beata—he tells Yvan that it’s a masterpiece. Serge pettily tells Yvan that Marc hasn’t even read it. Marc tells Serge he only described it as a masterpiece because Serge himself had.
Even a joke between friends is blown out of proportion as Marc, parroting Serge’s advice to him when he himself expressed feelings of stress and anxiety, is called out as being rude and pretentious.
Serge and Marc begin fighting about Serge’s use of the words “masterpiece” and “modern.” Marc takes issue with Serge’s use of the word modern as a compliment. Serge accuses Marc of needling him incessantly. Yvan tells the two other men that if they spend the whole night fighting, it will “finish” him. He attempts to change the subject by asking what they should do now that they have missed all the movies. Marc, however, leadingly asks Yvan if he is “taken” with Serge’s painting. Yvan admits that he is, and says that he gathers Marc isn’t. Marc suggests heading out for dinner. Serge and Marc argue briefly and passive-aggressively about where they should go, and attempt to put Yvan in the middle. Yvan says he’ll go wherever the other two would like, and then Serge and Marc lay into him about his lack of opinions.
In this passage, the three friends struggle momentously over nothing. Marc made a joke to Yvan that Serge construes as an attack—and it is. Everything Serge says sets Marc on edge. Yvan’s attempts to defuse the tension only result in his two friends piling on him, and cruelly berating him for always trying to be the nice one and avoid conflict. Just as Yvan, in attempting to do some conflict resolution with his mother and Catherine, found himself at the center of an attack, so too does he find himself fending one off now.
Yvan proclaims that he has put up with enough abuse for one day, and will go home if the two don’t stop it. Marc asks Yvan where his sense of humor is, and leadingly questions Yvan as to whether he thinks that he, too, has lost his sense of humor. Serge announces that he isn’t even hungry, and offers to give Yvan some advice about his problems with the women in his life. Serge warns Yvan that Catherine is “hysterical,” and that if he lets himself be bossed around by her, he is in for a “hideous” future. When Yvan asks what he should do, Marc suggests he cancel the wedding, and Serge agrees.
Yvan, sensing that the pattern of cruelty he just escaped at home has followed him here to Serge’s, threatens to end the evening. Marc, bringing up Yvan’s earlier criticism of him, asks Yvan what has happened to his sense of humor in a cruel and direct dig. Even the advice Marc and Serge give to Yvan is full of cruelty and indifference—they are being as mean to him as possible because it is easier to direct their cruelty at him than it is to direct it at one another.
Yvan, distressed, tells the other two men that he can’t possibly call off the wedding—he only was able to obtain his job at the stationery business through Catherine’s uncle, who is the owner. Moreover, Yvan tells Serge that Serge, not having had great success in terms of romance, is not the person Yvan would turn to for matrimonial advice. Changing the subject, Yvan asks Serge where he plans to hang the Antrios. Serge says he does not know.
In a twist of events, rather than attempting to change the subject to personal matters to defuse the tension surrounding the Antrios, the conversation has taken such a nasty and frightful turn that Yvan uses the controversial Antrios as a distraction to take the heat off of himself for a moment.
Yvan tells Serge that he thought of him yesterday at work, when they printed five hundred posters by an artist who paints white flowers against a white background. Serge counters that his Antrios is not white. “Of course not,” Yvan says, conciliatorily agreeing. Marc jumps down Yvan’s throat, asking him to say what color he thinks the painting is if not white. Yvan describes the various colors he can see within the painting. Marc asks Yvan if the colors in the painting “move” him. Yvan says they does. Marc tells Yvan that he is an “amoeba,” and attacks him for being an “obsequious ass-licker.”
Yvan’s attempt to connect with Serge fails—Serge has become very sensitive to anything he perceives as criticism of the Antrios. Yvan, who does not want to offend anyone or draw any more attention to himself, attempts to simply agree as a way of shutting things down, but Marc, hungry for conflict and validation of his own opinions, will not let the moment slide. When Yvan takes Serge’s “side,” Marc erupts and begin cruelly berating Yvan’s natural need to be liked.
Marc asks Yvan how he could, in front of him, describe the colors as touching. Yvan tells Marc that he needs to stop wanting to control everything—Yvan maintains that he finds the colors touching. Serge tells Marc that Yvan is entitled to his opinion, but Marc replies that he is not. He accuses Yvan of lying about finding the colors moving. Serge asks Marc who he thinks he is to try and legislate others—Marc despises everything and everyone, and takes pride in “not being a man of [his] time.” As Marc and Serge resume their arguing, Yvan stands up to leave. Serge tells Yvan that if he leaves, he is “giving in” to Marc. Yvan hesitates, torn.
It is unclear whether Yvan really likes the painting, or whether he is just saying so—he could be trying to ingratiate himself to Serge, or he could simply have stated an opinion which he didn’t believe, but now because his lack of opinion is being called out, he feels the need to stick with it no matter what the cost. As Marc and Serge’s argument picks up on a new thread, Yvan finds himself itching to leave more and more, though his friends weaponize this impulse, too, against him.
Marc and Serge debate what it means to be “a man of one’s time.” Serge argues that a man of his time is someone who is representative of his era. When Marc asks him to elaborate, though, Serge explodes, and tells Marc that if he were indeed a man of his time he would make contributions to the human race and “play his part in the dynamic of evolution.” Marc asks Serge if Serge believes that he himself is a man of his time, and if Yvan is. Marc asserts that Yvan cannot possibly be a man of his time, what with the terrible art hanging from his mantelpiece. Serge warns Marc that the more he tries to struggle against being of his own time, the deeper he will sink into it. He orders Marc to apologize to Yvan. Marc, however, tells Yvan that he is a coward. Yvan leaves.
This argument represents one of the central things the play is lampooning. None of the friends can even agree on what the phrase “a man of one’s time” means or signifies, and the phrase itself seems to be inherently devoid of meaning. The men endlessly debate which of them is or is not a man of their time, and weaponize the title against one another despite its completely vague and arbitrary nature. Their only interest is in hurting and demeaning one another in service of their own egos. Yvan, perhaps realizing on some level that this is what is happening, removes himself from the situation—just as it was back at home, his instinct in the face of conflict is to flee.
Marc, realizing that meeting up this evening was a bad idea, suggests he himself take his leave as well. Serge tells Marc that he is a coward for attacking Yvan, who is incapable of defending himself. Marc apologizes to Serge and confides in him that he no longer has any idea what he and Yvan ever had in common. Serge asks Marc if he has any idea what the two of them have in common. Marc warns Serge that that question could take them “down a very long road,” and Serge invites him to “lead on.”
Marc and Serge, realizing how badly they have hurt their sensitive friend, seem poised on a moment of real connection and reconciliation, though Marc and Serge both admit that there is a lot of muck for them to wade through before they come to an answer about what their friendship even means now, and how to continue it.
After a brief silence, Marc apologizes again for upsetting Yvan. Serge reveals that the painting of Yvan’s that Marc insulted was painted by Yvan’s father. Marc points out that Serge, too, berated the painting, and together the men consider how they have hurt their friend.
The two share yet another moment of connection when they realize that they have wounded Yvan by insulting something he loves. His friends forgot, in the heat of their egoistic, pretentious fight, that the trashy, “meaningless” piece of art they were condescending to is an object of love and meaning for Yvan.
The doorbell rings, and Yvan enters, manic as he was before. He announces that the elevator was full, and so he took the stairs, all the while thinking about how he’d like to return to Serge’s flat with a gun and blow Marc’s head off for calling him an amoeba. Once at the ground floor, however, Yvan realized that he hadn’t been in therapy for six years for nothing—he realized that “some deep malaise” has to be underneath Marc’s “insane aggression,” and has returned to help Marc.
Yvan, the eternal people-pleaser, cannot just let this fight go. He realizes how disturbed his friends have become, and despite his earlier failure, he feels as if he is the only one who can fix it. All Yvan wants is for everything to go back to the way it was, and he—somewhat egotistically--believes that he can get things there.
Yvan tells Marc and Serge that just the other day he was discussing the two of them with his therapist, Finkelzohn. Serge asks why Yvan was discussing them, and Yvan reveals that he was concerned because Marc and Serge’s relationship seemed strained. Marc and Serge are upset that Yvan discussed them with his therapist, but Serge nevertheless urges him to reveal what Finkelzohn said about them. Yvan pulls a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. Marc is incredulous that Yvan took notes. Yvan defensively proclaims that he wrote down what the therapist said because it was complicated, and then begins to read off of his notes.
Marc and Serge pretentiously dismiss therapy as a joke, and are angry that Yvan would have brought him up in his sessions with his therapist. Again, all Yvan wants to do is help, but when he reveals that he plans to try to help them through proxy advice from his therapist, his friends condescend to him once again.
“If I’m who I am because I’m who I am and you’re who you are, then I’m who I am and you’re who you are. If on the other hand I’m who I am because you’re who you are, and you’re who you are because I’m who I am, then I’m not who I am and you’re not who you are” is what the slightly confusing note says.
The note is, for comic effect, written in circuitous, childlike language. What it actually says is that if two people base their personalities and opinions off what they believe another person desires or expects of them, the relationship will not be viable, and will be based on lies and falsehoods.
Marc sarcastically tells Yvan that he is a “lucky man” to be getting advice from Finkelzohn. Serge, jumping on board with the sarcasm, asks Yvan to make them each a copy of the note, as it might come in handy for future reference. Yvan sheepishly puts the note back in his pocket, and tells his friends that they are wrong—the advice is in fact very profound. Marc tells Yvan that his therapist has turned him into a “pudding.” Yvan mutters about how all of their strife stems from Marc’s inability to believe that Yvan likes the Antrios.
Though the advice is indeed profound, Marc and Serge either do not realize this or refuse to accept it. Instead of thanking Yvan for attempting to help them or applauding him for attempting to work through something difficult in therapy, they berate him for allowing himself to be influenced by yet another outside force.
Serge suggests they all change the subject—he has no interest in discussing the painting any further. Marc accuses Serge of being touchy, but Serge argues that he is simply exhausted—and, frankly, is growing bored with both Marc and Yvan. Yvan suggests they all go out to eat, and Serge suggests Marc and Yvan go alone. Yvan complains that the three of them are so rarely together, and Serge suggests that that is “just as well” judging by the way the night has gone.
Though it is clear that things are devolving deeper and deeper into cruelty and even outright madness, Yvan still wants to believe that there is something to salvage, but Serge is beginning to think that there is no way forward for the three of them.
Yvan begs his friends to calm down and get along, but Serge tells Yvan he is only “adding fuel to the fire” by behaving self-righteously. Marc takes one of his anti-anxiety supplements. Seized by a sudden impulse, Serge picks the Antrios up and takes it away into the next room. He returns immediately. Marc remarks that he and Yvan are not worthy of looking upon the painting, and Serge says he’s right. Marc tells Serge that he’s probably just afraid that he will soon start seeing the painting through Marc’s eyes. Serge attempts to quote Paul Valery, a French poet and philosopher, but Marc warns him not to quote Valery. Serge points out that Marc was the one who introduced him to Valery in the first place, but Marc insists he doesn’t “give a fuck” about Paul Valery.
Even Serge’s decision to physically remove the object of contention from the room does not defuse the tensions surrounding the implications of his purchase of the Antrios. Though Serge has removed the painting, he continues to spout what Marc sees as pretentious nonsense despite the fact that he himself introduced Serge to the very concepts Serge is now attempting to discuss. The two men’s clashing egos have caused them to cast aside things they once held dear and now only relate to one another through condescension and cruelty.
Serge asks Marc what he does give a fuck about, and Marc replies that he cares about Serge’s spending two hundred thousand francs on a “piece of shit.” Yvan begs Marc not to start up again, but Serge is already readying his own argument. Serge rails against Marc for refusing to believe that he or Yvan could have a genuine attachment to the painting, and accuses him of trying to sow discord in the trio’s friendship. Marc admits that he cannot love the Serge who’s capable of buying that painting—and as for loving, he can’t believe that anyone could ever love that painting.
The painting is so wildly offensive to Marc that he refuses to believe that anyone could love it, and argues that even if Serge and Yvan truly do love it, he does not want anything to do with anyone so pretentious, or stupid, or a combination of the two that they would see any value in the Antrios at all.
Serge asks Marc if he ever considered that Serge truly loved the painting, and that his words might be hurtful to Serge—Marc says he hasn’t. Serge tells Marc that long ago, when Marc asked Serge what he thought of Paula, Serge chose not to say that he “found her ugly, repellent, and charmless.” Yvan accuses Serge of lying to make Marc feel bad, but Serge insists that he actually feels even worse about Paula than what he just said. Serge points out that when the subject concerns Marc, Marc understands how words can “bite.”
Marc purports to be personally hurt by the painting, but has not considered that Serge might too be hurt by Marc’s outright dismissal of it. In an attempt to level the playing field—or in just a cruel, desperate means of proving his own point—Serge reveals that he has always hated, or is pretending to have always hated, Marc’s girlfriend Paula. Serge is attempting to equate Paula and the Antrios, demonstrating that when one’s friend loves something, one should not attack it.
Marc asks Serge how someone can be “worse than repellent,” and Serge references the way Marc’s girlfriend Paula waves her cigarette smoke. Marc tells Serge that what he is doing is “very serious.” Serge continues to berate the manner in which Paula waves away her cigarette smoke. Yvan accuses Serge of exaggerating. Serge points out that Yvan must agree with him—he is not opposing him, just claiming exaggeration. Marc tells Serge to take back everything he’s just said, and Yvan backs Marc up. Serge refuses. He tells both of his friends that they are “a pair of fossils.” Marc throws himself on Serge, and Yvan rushes forward to try and tear them apart.
This passage implies that Serge doesn’t truly hate Paula, but is simply searching for the most ridiculous way in which he can upset Marc. By pointing out something meaningless and inconsequential about Paula that has purportedly rendered her “repellent” in Serge’s eyes, Serge points out how ridiculous it is that Marc has chosen to detest the Antrios, and bring their friendship crumbling to the ground, over his dislike of certain aspects of the painting. This backfires, however—perhaps because it also involves an attack on Marc’s masculinity—sending the evening spinning into even greater turmoil.
In trying to strike each other, Marc or Serge—it is unclear who—strikes Yvan. Yvan removes himself from the struggle, groaning and clutching his head. Serge leaves the room and comes back right away with a compress. As Yvan holds the ice to his head, he tells Marc and Serge that they have both gone completely insane—two old friends, educated people, have chosen to demolish not only each other but everyone the other holds dear.
Yvan’s emotional interference in the fight between Marc and Serge is physically manifested as bodily interference in this passage. Just as Yvan’s attempts to verbally or emotionally soothe his friends have backfired, so too does his attempt to physically intervene and calm the two of them down.
Marc asks Serge why he wouldn’t have told him at the time how much he hated Paula—and why, in fact, Serge told Marc that the two of them were a “perfect match.” Serge feigns ignorance, but Marc points out that Serge is, by proxy, calling Marc himself “worse than repellent.” As the two of them argue back and forth, Yvan screams that he is in agony, and wonders if he has a concussion. Serge and Marc offer him alcohol and aspirin, but he wants neither, and urges them to just get back to their argument.
Marc, growing increasingly nitpicky and pedantic as the evening wears on, and in a last-ditch attempt to pull on each and every loose thread in his and Serge’s relationship, uses Serge’s attack on Paula to extend the attack, by proxy, onto himself. It is almost as if Marc wants to see how bad he can force things to get, and how low he can bring everyone else’s ego down.
Serge points out that while he does not like Paula, he does not resent Marc for spending time with Paula; whereas Marc does not like the Antrios and resents Serge for having acquired it. Marc says he believes that Serge has replaced him with the Antrios, “and all it implies,” while he himself never replaced Serge with Paula. Serge, confused, asks Yvan to “translate” what Marc is saying, but Yvan proclaims that he has tuned out—both men are “insane.”
Marc’s deepest hurt is finally revealed—he has never come across anything that is more important to him than Serge, but Serge has (seemingly) at last come across something that is more important to him than Marc. This isn’t exactly true—the most important thing to each of them seems to be his own self—but Marc’s hurt is nonetheless palpable in this moment.
Marc tells Serge that back when he judged things by Marc’s standards, he never would have bought the Antrios. Serge wonders if there ever even was such a time. Marc urges Serge to remember the times when Serge was proud to be Marc’s friend, and even “congratulated himself” on having such an interesting friend with such good taste. Serge has since claimed his independence from Marc, but Marc sees Serge’s independence as violence, abandonment, and betrayal.
Marc’s actual pain is revealed in this passage—he loved that Serge loved him so much, and celebrated him, and stoked his ego. Now that Serge has amassed his own opinions and developed an overinflated ego of his own, Marc is left all alone, feeling as if he has invested time and love in a person who was only ever looking to glean what he could from him and then surpass him.
Serge asks Marc if Marc thought he was Serge’s mentor—Marc says that he did. If he loved Marc as a mentor, Serge argues, then Marc must have loved him only as a disciple and an adherent. Marc admits that he enjoyed being admired by Serge, and that seeing himself through Serge’s eyes made him feel good about himself. Marc bemoans the fact that now Serge prizes far-away, godlike artists and obscure concepts like “deconstruction” over Marc’s friendship.
Serge points out that though Marc purports to feel betrayed by Serge, Marc has, for a long time, loved Serge for the wrong reasons in the first place. Marc wanted to be the one with the power, which he saw as the power to impress, to influence, and to educate, while Serge’s only purpose in Marc’s life was to validate his ability to do these things.
Yvan urges the two to make up—there is still time to salvage the evening and enjoy one another’s company. Marc admits that the deterioration of his and Serge’s relationship is his own fault—he has pulled away from Serge recently, and allowed Serge to fill the gap with useless knowledge and pretentious obsessions. Marc laments having left Serge—and Yvan, too—“unchaperoned.” In the absence of his care and grooming, Serge has become a pretentious aesthete and Yvan has become a “timid” man who is throwing away what little originality he once had by getting married.
Marc now feels that Serge and Yvan, by moving on to other things in their lives—Serge with modern art, Yvan with his fiancée Catherine—have estranged themselves from Marc’s useful advice and become people he no longer recognizes—in other words, people he no longer controls. This is no basis for friendship, obviously, but Marc’s sense of having been betrayed is genuine, despite his unhealthy reasons for it.
Serge asks Marc why he can’t just love people for who they are. Marc asks who friends even are apart from their other friends’ faith in them. Marc has attempted to mold Serge and Yvan into people he has faith in, but somewhere along the way, he has failed. Yvan gleefully announces that Finkelzohn had been right about Marc and Serge’s relationship. Marc tells Yvan to stop refereeing as if he is not also “implicated” in this massive fight.
Marc tells Yvan that he cannot stand Yvan’s desire to put Marc and Serge on the same level—the two of them are not equal, Marc says, and now Yvan must choose between the two of them who he will remain friends with. Yvan announces that he has already chosen, implying that he has chosen Serge. Serge says he does not need a “supporter.” Yvan, frustrated and angry, asks why the three of them even see each other—they clearly hate each other. He clarifies: he does not hate either Marc or Serge, but the two of them hate each other. Yvan laments the fact that he was looking forward to a fun evening with his friends and getting away from the dramas of his life.
Marc and Serge again bully Yvan, first forcing him to choose between the two of them and then rejecting him when he does. Yvan cannot understand why his friends are so desperate to drag him down along with them, or why things have devolved between them all to the point that they have. Yvan does not see himself as involved in the fight in the same way as Marc and Serge, but the other two find his desire to keep himself on the fringes of the battle as an unbearable attempt at appearing saint-like and blameless.
Serge points out that Yvan is only making “I” statements and only talking about himself. Yvan argues that “everybody talks about themselves.” Serge accuses Yvan of fucking up the evening—Yvan is outraged. He asks how he ruined things. Marc reminds him that he arrived nearly an hour late, did not apologize for his tardiness, and immediately proceeded to “deluge [them] with [his] domestic woes.” Serge adds that all evening Yvan’s “inertia” and desire to be a spectator to the argument has driven him and Marc even deeper into their rage.
The pedantries are piling up and becoming almost unbearable as the friends needle one another back and forth about every little thing. The momentous fighting Serge and Marc have done over the course of the evening obviously far outweighs anything Yvan has done, but in an attempt to take the blame off of themselves, they instead pile on Yvan and accuse him of fueling their fight through his spineless refereeing, when all he was trying to do was help.
Yvan, overwhelmed by his friends’ piling on him, says he could burst into tears. Marc and Serge both urge him to go ahead and cry. Marc points out that Yvan has every reason to cry—he is marrying a horrible woman and losing his two best friends. Yvan points out that Marc and Serge are the witnesses at his wedding, and asks what he will do without them. Serge tells him to find someone else. Yvan says that their names are already on the invitations. Marc tells Yvan not to panic—they will come to his wedding. “But what you ought to do,” says Serge, “is cancel [it.]”
In one final dig at Yvan, his friends attempt to level him by telling him that his life choices have all been wrong. Yvan is so codependent on both of them that he does not want to have a wedding without them. Yvan is left feeling utterly alone, wondering if his friends truly feel this way or if they are simply trying to drag him down to their level. Either way, Yvan has been abused far too much for one evening, and appears on the verge of a total breakdown.
Yvan bursts into tears. He tells his friends that they are being brutal, and asks why they couldn’t have saved their fight for after his wedding, which they now seem desperate to ruin despite its already being a catastrophe. Yvan regrets having been the jester and the “fool” of their friendship for the last fifteen years, only to be left “solitary as a rat.” Marc tells Yvan to stop getting himself worked up into a state. Yvan tells Marc that he is the one who got Yvan into a state in the first place. Marc again tells Yvan to calm down. Yvan says that he cannot. All he wants is to be their friend. Serge asks politely if Yvan wouldn’t mind steering clear of pathos, or unnecessary emotion.
Even Yvan’s impassioned pleas to his friends no longer register with Marc and Serge—they have been numbed and dulled by the excruciating fighting all evening, and now any show of real emotion is more than any of them can handle, process, or understand. Yvan has seemingly only ever wanted to give love and be loved, and despite Serge’s rejection of Yvan’s plea in this passage, it’s clear that on some level Yvan’s pain is getting through.
Yvan asks if there is anything to eat—he is so hungry he feels as if he is about to pass out. Serge points out a bowl of olives on the table. The three men have a silent moment together in which they all share the bowl of olives. In the quiet, Yvan reflects on how their friendship has reached an “apocalypse” because of a little white square. Serge pedantically argues that the painting is not white. Yvan begins laughing uncontrollably, and calls the painting a piece of white shit, and an “insane” purchase. Marc begins to laugh, too. Serge leaves the room and returns with the Antrios. He asks Yvan if he has one of his “famous” felt-tip pens on him.
As the exhausted friends share a bowl of olives, it seems as if they have reached a place of peace. Olive branches are, after all, a symbol for extending a hand in peace and goodwill. However, at the slightest provocation, they begin quibbling again, and suddenly Serge realizes what must be done to once and for all stop the fighting over this absurd object that has come to consume all three men’s lives and consciousnesses.
Yvan asks if Serge plans to draw on the painting. Serge simply demands the pen once again. Yvan goes through his jacket pockets and hands Serge a blue pen. Serge takes the top off the marker, examines its tip, then puts the top back on. He throws the pen to Marc, and urges him to “go on.” Marc doesn’t move. Serge urges him more firmly. Marc approaches the painting and removes the cap from the felt-tip pen. Yvan urges Marc not to do it—he tells both men that they are insane.
Yvan is the only voice of reason in the room at the moment, but by this point Marc and Serge have learned not to listen to Yvan’s fruitless attempts to intervene between the two of them. It is as if Marc and Serge are speaking their own language in this passage, as the mostly silent gestures and permissions between them express their mutual desire to end the absurdity they have descended into by cancelling out with an even grander, more absurd final act.
Marc leans toward the painting and draws along one of the faint diagonal lines. Serge does not say or do anything to stop him. On the slope Marc has drawn, he adds a tiny skier in a woolly hat. When he has finished, he examines his work. Serge and Yvan are stony and expressionless. After a long silence, Serge proclaims that he is starving, and suggests they all go out to eat. Marc smiles, caps the pen, and throws it back to Yvan.
The cataclysmic fight between the friends had to end somehow. This radical gesture proves to Marc that Serge sees the painting as being as disposable and ridiculous as he has said it was all along, making room in the friendship once again for the idea that people are more valuable than art and ideas.