The fifteen-year friendship between Serge, Marc, and Yvan that lies at the center of the play is bitter and broken, but spellbindingly intimate. As the play unfolds, the audience’s view of the trio’s friendship is not unlike a Roman ruin; something great was there once, but has now fallen into disrepair and exists only as a shadow of its former self. Those who look upon the ruins can perhaps imagine what it looked like in all its splendor, but at the end of the day, only a pile of rubble remains. As Marc, Serge, and Yvan willfully deny the unhealthy codependence at the center of their friendship, which has rotted it from the inside, things between them devolve until they explode in a cataclysmic battle that leaves no stone unturned, no wound unexamined, and no memory untarnished. By staging the dissolution—and, finally, the tentative renewal—of an old and complicated friendship, Reza argues that codependence is a killer, and only through individuality and mutual respect can friendship truly thrive.
Yvan is the beating heart of the trio. His concern for the survival of Marc and Serge’s friendship, at several points, outweighs his concern for the survival of his own friendship with either of them. Yvan is conflict averse, and so his love of Serge’s painting is seen by Marc as an attempt to ingratiate himself to Serge and defuse any tension. Both Marc and Serge have difficulty seeing Yvan as a person with agency; Marc describes him as an “amoeba,” and Serge describes him as a spectator beset by inertia. Although his kindness, gentleness, and easy demeanor have been a welcome and valued part of their friendship in the past, as tensions come to a head, Marc and Serge urge Yvan to stop being obsequious and learn to think, act, and live independently of them. Yvan is torn apart by his friends’ fighting, and as the play unfolds it is revealed that he has been concerned about Marc and Serge’s friendship for much longer than they’ve even been aware there has been strife between them.
When Yvan reveals that he has been speaking to his therapist about Marc and Serge, Marc and Serge are not just taken aback—they’re angry. Yvan pulls from his jacket pocket a set of notes he took during the therapy session in which he discussed Marc and Serge. The note is comically complicated, but is revealed to hold a nugget of truth about the complex and often toxic friendship Marc and Serge share.
Yvan’s therapist has posited that if two people live independently of one another, and figure their identities and their choices out for themselves without relying on the other, then a healthy friendship can grow and thrive. However, if one person makes choices or holds ideals based on what they believe the other person wants or expects of them, the friendship’s foundation will rot and crumble under the weight of disappointment and eventually anger. Though Marc and Serge at first tease Yvan mercilessly for psychoanalyzing them and parroting his therapist, it soon becomes clear that the advice has resonated with both Marc and Serge. Marc eventually admits that he has changed aspects himself, in the past, to appeal to Serge, and this moment makes way for a major breakthrough when Marc admits that he has indeed been too dependent upon Serge and Serge’s opinions of him.
Marc and Serge’s codependent dynamic is strange, unhealthy, and destructive. They have molded their personalities to please and impress one another in constant, escalating displays of what they believe to be their intellect, good taste, wealth, and masculinity. Marc, who values art and aesthetics above all else, has always felt secure in his ability to best Serge in the arena of understanding, appreciating, and analyzing art. The fact that Serge is more financially and professionally successful is seemingly of little import to Marc. However, when Serge purchases the Antrios, all of Marc’s insecurities flood to the surface. Marc is incensed that Serge, whom he saw as inferior to him in terms of his artistic sensibility, has bought a piece of art without Marc’s advice. Marc feels that the painting is ridiculous, and believes that Serge has purchased it as a display of wealth and as a slight against all that Marc has taught him. For Marc, the idea that Serge could have made this decision not in relation to him is maddening, and leads to an enormous fight. Marc himself admits that he sees Serge’s independence as “violence,” and expresses his feelings of having been abandoned and betrayed.
The drawn-out argument in which Marc, Serge, and Yvan find themselves ultimately dismantles the codependent tendencies that exist between the three of them, but not before laying bare the foolish expectations, small betrayals, and emotional letdowns that have rotted the men’s friendship from the inside out. In the end, Serge allows Marc to draw on the Antrios using one of Ivan’s felt-tipped pens. In this moment, Marc understands both that Serge loves him more than he loves the Antrios, and that Marc’s need to hurt and embarrass Serge in order to be reminded of this is a mark of codependency at its most toxic and destructive. Serge, in a monologue delivered to the audience, reveals that he knew all along that felt-tip pens were washable, thus rendering the gesture of self-sacrifice and reconciliation meaningless. He knows it would have been wrong to reveal the truth to Marc, but also feels it is wrong to have started a new chapter in their friendship with a lie. Though the two have agreed to move forward in their friendship as independent individuals, this lie binds Serge to Marc in a resurgent pattern of codependency which, the play implies, they may never be able to fully break.
The play suggests that codependency is a blight when it comes to developing healthy friendships. As Reza explores the ways in which her trio of characters are codependent, she shows that they all need to reassert their individuality and stop leaning on one another to function not just as individuals, but as a loving group of friends. The question of whether they can accomplish this goal, however, is left hanging in the air as the stage lights dim.
Friendship and Codependence ThemeTracker
Friendship and Codependence Quotes in Art
SERGE: My friend Marc’s an intelligent enough fellow, I’ve always valued our relationship, he has a good job, but he’s one of those new-style intellectuals, who are not only enemies of modernism, but seem to take some sort of incomprehensible pride in running it down… In recent years, these nostalgia-merchants have become quite breathtakingly arrogant.
MARC: It’s a complete mystery to me, Serge buying this painting. It’s unsettled me, it’s filled me with some indefinable unease. When I left his place, I had to take three capsules of Gelsemium 9X which Paula recommended because I couldn’t begin to understand how Serge, my friend, could have bought that picture. Two hundred thousand francs! He’s comfortably off, but he’s hardly rolling in money. Comfortable, no more, just comfortable. And he spends two hundred grand on a white painting. I must go and see Yvan, he’s a friend of ours, I have to discuss this with Yvan. Mind you, Yvan’s a very tolerant bloke, which of course, when it comes to relationships, is the worst thing you can be. Yvan’s very tolerant because he couldn’t care less. If Yvan tolerates the fact that Serge has spent two hundred grand on some piece of white shit, it’s because he couldn’t care less about Serge. Obviously.
YVAN: As long as it’s not doing any harm to anyone else…
MARC: But it is. It’s doing harm to me! I’m disturbed, I’m disturbed, more than that, I’m hurt, yes, I am, I’m fond of Serge, and to see him let himself be ripped off and lose every ounce of discernment through sheer snobbery.
SERGE: You know Marc’s seen this painting.
SERGE: He told me it was shit. A completely inappropriate description.
SERGE: You can’t call this shit.
SERGE: You can say, I don’t get it, I can’t grasp it, you can’t say “it’s shit.”
YVAN: You’ve seen his place.
SERGE: Nothing to see. It’s like yours, it’s… what I mean is, you couldn’t care less.
SERGE: I don't blame him for not responding to this painting, he hasn't the training, there's a whole apprenticeship you have to go through, which he hasn't, either because he's never wanted to or because he has no particular instinct for it, none of that matters, no, what I blame him for is his tone of voice, his complacency, his tactlessness. I blame him for his insensitivity. I don't blame him for not being interested in modern Art, I couldn’t give a toss about that, I like him for other reasons . . .
YVAN: And he likes you!
SERGE: No, no, no, no, I felt it the other day, a kind of . . . a kind of condescension . . . contempt with a really bitter edge...
YVAN: No, surely not!
SERGE: Oh, yes! Don’t keep trying to smooth things over. Where d'you get this urge to be the great reconciler of the human race?! Why don't you admit that Marc is atrophying? If he hasn't already atrophied.
MARC: He wasn't laughing because his painting is ridiculous, you and he weren't laughing for the same reasons, you were laughing at the painting and he was laughing to ingratiate himself, to put himself on your wavelength, to show you that on top of being an aesthete who can spend more on a painting than you earn in a year, he's still your same old subversive mate who likes a good laugh.
YVAN: Mm hm… You know. . .
YVAN: This is going to amaze you…
MARC: Go on. . .
YVAN: I didn't like the painting . . . but I didn't actually hate it.
MARC: Well, of course. You can’t hate what's invisible, you can't hate nothing.
YVAN: No, no, it has something . . .
MARC: What do you mean?
YVAN: It has something. It's not nothing.
MARC: Why do I have to be so categorical? What possible difference can it make to me, if Serge lets himself be taken in by modern Art? I mean, it is a serious matter. But I could have found some other way to put it to him. I could have taken a less aggressive tone. Even if it makes me physically ill that my best friend has bought a white painting, all the same I ought to avoid attacking him about it. I ought to be nice to him. From now on, I’m on my best behavior.
SERGE: He is getting on my nerves. It's true. He's getting on my nerves. It's this ingratiating tone of voice. A little smile behind every word. It's as if he's forcing himself to be pleasant. Don't be pleasant, whatever you do, don't be pleasant! Could it be buying the Antrios? . . . Could buying the Antrios have triggered off this feeling of constraint between us? Buying something. . . without his backing? . . . Well, bugger his backing! Bugger your backing, Marc!
MARC: Could it be the Antrios, buying the Antrios? No—It started some time ago… To be precise, it started on the day we were discussing some work of art and you uttered, quite seriously, the word deconstruction. It wasn’t so much the word deconstruction which upset me, it was the air of solemnity you imbued it with. You said, humorlessly, unapologetically, without a trace of irony, the word deconstruction, you, my friend. I wasn’t sure how best to deal with the situation, so I made this throwaway remark, and I said I think I must be getting intolerant, and you answered, who do you think you are?
What gives you the right to set yourself apart, Serge answered in the bloodiest possible way. And quite unexpectedly. You’re just Marc, what makes you think you’re so special? That day, I should have punched him in the mouth. And when he was lying there on the ground, half-dead, I should have said to him, what sort of friend are you, Serge, if you don’t think your friends are special?
SERGE: There’s no problem, except for you, because you take pride in your desire to shut yourself off from humanity. And you’ll never manage it. It’s like you’re in quicksand, the more you struggle to get out of it, the deeper you sink.
YVAN: “If I’m who I am because I’m who I am and you’re who you are because 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 if you’re who you are because I am who I am, then I’m not who I am and you’re not who you are…” You see why I had to write it down.
MARC: It’s true I can’t imagine you genuinely loving that painting.
YVAN: But why?
MARC: Because I love Serge and I can’t love the Serge who’s capable of buying that painting.
SERGE: Why do you say buying, why don’t you say loving?
MARC: Because I can’t say loving, I can’t believe loving.
SERGE: So why would I buy it, if I didn’t love it?
MARC: That’s the nub of the question.
SERGE: (to YVAN) See how smug he is! All I’m doing is teasing him, and his answer is this serenely pompous heavy hint! And it never crossed your mind, [Marc,] for a second, however improbably it might seem, that I might really love it and that your vicious, inflexible opinions and your disgusting assumption[s] might be hurtful to me?
MARC: Do you think what you just said about Paula?
SERGE: Worse, actually.
MARC: Worse, Serge? Worse than repellent?
SERGE: Aha! When it’s something that concerns you personally, I see words can bite a little deeper!
MARC: Serge, will you explain how someone can be worse than repellent…
SERGE: No need to take that frosty tone. Perhaps it’s—let me try and answer you—perhaps it’s the way she waves away cigarette smoke. What appears to you a gesture of no significance, what you think of as a harmless gesture is in fact the opposite, and the way she waves away cigarette smoke sits right at the heart of her repellentness.
MARC: There was a time you were proud to be my friend… You congratulated yourself on my peculiarity, on my taste for standing apart. You enjoyed exhibiting me untamed to your circle, you, whose life was so normal. I was your alibi. But…eventually, I supposed, that sort of affection dries up… Belatedly, you claim your independence. But I detest your independence. Its violence. You’ve abandoned me. I’ve been betrayed. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a traitor.
SERGE (to YVAN): If I understand correctly, he was my mentor! And if I loved you as my mentor…what was the nature of your feelings?
MARC: I enjoyed your admiration. I was flattered. I was always grateful to you for thinking of me as a man apart. I even thought being a man apart was a somehow superior condition, until one day you pointed out to me that it wasn’t.
SERGE: This is very alarming.
MARC: It’s the truth.
SERGE: Why can’t you learn to love people for themselves, Marc?
MARC: What does that mean, for themselves?
SERGE: For what they are.
MARC: But what are they?! What are they?! Apart from my faith in them I’m desperate to find a friend who has some kind of prior existence. So far, I’ve had no luck. I’ve had to mold you… But you see, it never works. There comes a day when your creature goes off and buys a white painting.
YVAN: I’m not like you, I don’t want to be an authority figure, I don’t want to be a point of reference, I don’t want to be self-sufficient, I just want to be your friend Yvan the joker! Yvan the joker!
SERGE: Could we try to steer clear of pathos?
YVAN: I’ve finished. Haven’t you got any nibbles? Anything, just to stop from passing out.
SERGE: I have some olives.
YVAN: Hand them over.
Serge reaches for a little bowl of olives and hands it to him.
SERGE (to MARC): Want some?
Marc nods. Yvan hands him the bowl. They eat olives.
YVAN: The day after the wedding, at the Montparnasse cemetery Catherine put a bouquet and a bag of sugared almonds on her mother’s grave. In the evening, thinking about this tribute, I started sobbing in my bed. I absolutely must speak to Finkelzohn about my tendency to cry, I cry all the time, it’s not normal for someone my age. It started, or at least revealed itself at Serge’s, the evening of the white painting. After Serge, in an act of pure madness, had demonstrated to Marc that he cared more about him than he did about his painting, we went and had dinner. Over dinner, Serge and Marc took the decision to try to rebuild a relationship destroyed by word and deed. One of them used to expression “trial period” and I burst into tears. I can no longer bear any kind of rational argument, nothing formative in the world, nothing great or beautiful in the world has ever been born of rational argument.
SERGE: When Marc and I succeeded in obliterating the skier, with the aid of Swiss soap with added ox gall, recommended by Paula, I looked at the Antrios and turned to Marc:
“Did you know ink from felt-tips was washable?”
“No,” Marc said… “No, did you?”
“No,” I said, very fast, lying. I came within an inch of saying yes, I did know. But how could I have launched our trial period with such a disappointing admission? On the other hand, was it right to start with a lie? A lie! Let’s be reasonable. Why am I so absurdly virtuous? Why does my relationship with Marc have to be so complicated?
MARC: Under the white clouds, the snow is falling. You can’t see the white clouds, or the snow. Or the cold, or the white glow of the earth. A solitary man glides downhill on his skis. The snow is falling. It falls until the man disappears back into the landscape.
My friend Serge, who’s one of my oldest friends, has bought a painting. It’s a canvas about five foot by four. It represents a man who moves across a space and disappears.