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Arts & Entertainment

Pasadena Playhouse and West Wing veteran Bradley Whitford: A white painting isn't art!

Actor Bradley Whitford at the Pasadena Playhouse
Actor Bradley Whitford at the Pasadena Playhouse
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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For seven years, actor Bradley Whitford played political operative Josh Lyman on TV's "The West Wing." He's got a new project – he’s starring in a rendition of "Art," an 80 minute play about three longtime friends torn apart by a very expensive white painting. It's written by Yasmina Reza, who also wrote "God of Carnage." which Roman Polanski directed a movie version of just last year. "Art" kicks off at the Pasadena Playhouse this Sunday. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson talked with Whitford as rehearsal was wrapping up.

While the synopsis may seem a little over the top, Whitford said that it's entirely possible for art to rupture friendships.

"We all know where there are situations where you don't want to talk about politics, like Thanksgiving, because how you feel about politics is an expression of putting your deepest values into action," he explained. "When you're talking about art and what art should mean, it's also a reflection of your deepest values and it can be a very treacherous place to go."

In the play, Whitford embodies a character who is horrified by his friend's recent art purchase. And as a skeptic of contemporary art, Whitford reveals that he can relate.

"I get really impatient with the contemporary art world, because I feel like not always but often, it's an originality contest, which to me is a pretty limited, low aesthetic bar," he said.

Whitford says he thinks the rule of novelty is frustratingly elitist. Like his character, he finds something as simple as a stark white canvas hard to take seriously, especially when it's monetized for high prices.

"I remember I was shooting something in Dallas, Texas, with Colin Hanks, and right in front of city hall is one of these multi-ton, rusted blob statues," Whitford recalled. "We were just about to roll and we’re both looking at this massive blob, and I just said 'Honey, sculpture is done,' and we both just started laughing, because how the hell would you know?"

"Art" explores ideas like Whitford's Dallas revelation through comedy, and the actor said it's easy to sit through. "It's very funny, it's thought-provoking and it's short. You can have a nice, little stimulating date and then go eat," he said.