‘Preciosity’ skewers high-brow art world with conceptual comedy

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Timmi Lasley and Sam Provenzano in "Preciosity"

The two-act theatrical comedy produced by Denver’s Horse & Cart theater company is loosely based on Molière’s “Les Précieuses ridicules,” a 17th century satire about petty upper-class etiquette.

“In Molière’s sketch, there’s a character that says, ‘oh, I’ve read everything by that poet, I’ve read poems he hasn’t even written yet,’” standup comedian Timmi Lasley, who co-stars in the production next to Sam Provenzano, says. “So we basically took those two characters and anachronistically placed them in the present, giving an art review. It’s something we still see today: that hipster, ‘I-heard-that-album-before-it-was-even-out’ kind of thing.”

In Horse & Cart’s reimagining of Molière, the sisters Costanze and Sidonie de Ridicule (played by Lasley and Sam Provenzano) are clueless about art.

But that doesn’t stop them from lecturing the audience about symbolism and gallery etiquette.

"When one is as cultured as I, one knows bad art immediately, without even having to gaze upon its ghastly face," Costanze says.

Her sister adds: "Indeed, before one evens enters the room!"

Dressed in extravagant pink hoop skirts and corsets, Costanze and Sidonie deliver a fast-paced satirical skewering that’s part Shakespeare, part “Saturday Night Live.”

“My favorite thing about the ‘Moaning Lisa’ is the straight forward application of paint upon the canvas,” Costanze says. “Throughout history we've never had any doubt as to what she's thinking and feeling. One can gather all her thoughts simply by glancing at Lisa's broad toothy grin."

Devised by director Michael Emmitt and the actors in the ensemble, “Preciosity” takes place within an art gallery, with the audience scattered around the Savoy as if they were at any art show.

The show repeatedly breaks the audience’s fourth wall as Costanze and Sidonie comment on each piece of art, portions of which were donated by Colorado artists Ryan Case, Claire Ruf and others.

In addition to commenting on contemporary paintings by the local artists, the siblings also weigh in on replicas of classic pieces like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” also hanging from the gallery walls.

Although the performance is built on one-liner jokes, there is also a plot.

Sam Provenzano, Maggy Stacy and Timmy Lasley in "Preciosity"

Audiences are responsive to the message in the show.

“‘Preciosity' is a wink to the idea that it is more important to appear cultured than to actually be cultured,” local musician Chella Negro, who attended last Saturday’s performance, says.

In order to enhance the production’s critique of hack cultural criticism, Emmit strived to keep the actors separated from the art they would be commenting on in the show during the rehearsal process.

“The actors purposely didn't rehearse with the art. This highlights how disconnected they are with what they are seeing,” Emmitt says. “When the sisters call the dark, modern social commentary piece ‘cute’ and the formal Victorian portrait ’gay,’ this allows Marotte the maid and the one true art lover in the show a chance to get frustrated with the sisters’ lack of looking.”

Preciosity runs April 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. at The Savoy @ Curtis Park, Denver. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at this link.