Tearing it up in Raleigh with the GOD OF CARNAGE

Do not miss God of Carnage, continuing this week, June 26-30, at Theatre Raleigh|Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. That is, unless you just cannot bear to watch civility unmasked and shredded by four first-rate actors in an extended one-act of slashing brilliance. In Yasmina Reza’s painfully humorous 2006 play (translated from the French by Christopher Hampton), two sets of parents meet to discuss what needs to be done about the son of one pair bashing the son of the other couple and breaking out two of the kid’s teeth. What starts with conciliation destructs into a feral confrontation as Grown-ups Behave Badly. You may leave the theater feeling you’ve witnessed a kind of prelude to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

L to R, Fishell, Ivey, Tourek and Marks, the cast of GOD OF CARNAGE. Photo courtesy HSNK/TR.

L to R, Fishell, Ivey, Tourek and Marks, the cast of GOD OF CARNAGE. Photo courtesy HSNK/TR.

The scene takes place in Veronica (Dana Marks) and Michael (Michael Tourek) Novak’s apartment, which is worth a little description. Designed (along with the lighting) by Chris Bernier, the set gives us a self-consciously cultured yet barren living room. Bright pillows form a casual row along a pale couch, in front of which a sleek modern table supports carefully arranged piles of large books. There are more on the floor and near a severe side table holding a glass vase of tulips. On the opposite side of the couch, a similar table holds a matching vase and flowers, and a drinks tray. Two white and chrome side chairs sit on a dark red rug; behind the couch rises a tree of life, a relief form in a multi-paneled wall-size artwork, also dark red. There’s not one sign of actual life (children live here?): It all looks as if it belongs in a home furnishings catalog, aspiring hip bourgeois variety.

Veronica and Michael have just been joined by Annette (Julie Fishell) and Alan (Derrick Ivey) Raleigh, and its clear from the first instant that they come from a different, and rather more moneyed, tier of the class cake. But class is just one of the strings Reza pulls to effect the unravelling that takes place over the show’s hour and a half. Gender issues and marriage issues get their due, but at the core, the question for each character is, what values do you hold when irritation and rage have swept aside all the mannered overlays? The construct of the play has each character flipping back and forth between civilized control and savage self-assertion, the pace building to frenzy. Each of the actors here has the power and the timing to pull it off, and at one level the production satisfies simply because it is a pleasure to see actors exercising their craft so well. Julie Fishell (as she did in last year’s August, Osage County at HSNK) blisters the atmosphere around her, and it is fantastic to see her working with Dana Marks, with her explosive physicality, as they zip between alliance and total war. All four characters do this at different times–the alliances between married partners often do not hold. Ivey and Tourek are also very strong.

God of Carnage is a talk play, but director Richard Roland (also associate artistic director of Theatre Raleigh) has devised so much action that what you take away in memory is movement sequences, with words. One of the truly funny moments involves Veronica jumping up and down on her husband, and there’s a bit with a cellphone that may go viral. But most of the humor is pretty dark. Don’t go to it thinking that this is a feel-good play–it’s just a good play. And it may set you to worrying that old bone “truth is beauty.” There’s truth here, but it sure ain’t pretty.

Faye Driscoll’s YOU’RE ME at ADF

Jesse Zarritt and Faye Driscoll in her YOU'RE ME, at ADF through the 25th. Photo Steven Schreiber.

Jesse Zarritt and Faye Driscoll in her YOU’RE ME, at ADF through the 25th. Photo Steven Schreiber.

I saw only five people walk out of the first of three performances by Faye Driscoll in Reynolds Theater as the American Dance Festival continues. I don’t know if that was the bigger surprise, or the fact the most of the mostly student audience laughed all the way through, and rose up clapping at the end. I was so bored I could barely sit through the performance; my companion described it as “excruciating.”

Although Driscoll’s You’re Me, which she dances along with Jesse Zarritt, tries really hard, it does not rise above the level of the sophomoric in its exploration of identity search and power balancing between (young) lovers. There is some good material in the piece, and several interesting physical sequences, but not 90 minutes worth. Probably 15 minutes of sincerity could be culled from all the manufactured artsiness. Maybe 30, if the two performers with the gorgeous bodies had actually danced, rather than teasing us with a few steps here and there.

At least these two don’t have a microphone, or any audio or video loops. They do not sink to the level of a Miguel Gutierrez hanging his butt over an open flame. They do however make an enormous mess of the stage, what with sneeze-inducing colored powders and pastes, feathers and assorted geegaws. Could the work’s deeper message be that everything gets trashed in love?

The program repeats the 24th and 25th.

Pilobolus, Back in the Groove, as ADF continues at DPAC

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From Licks, June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

Just this week I had to explain what Pilobolus is, to a woman in my Pilates class, so I know that not everyone knows about this ever-morphing dance group named for a fungus–even though here in Durham, where the plastic fantastic dance company appears each year at the American Dance Festival, it is easy to assume everyone’s seen their awesome antics at least once. Whether you have or haven’t, this is a good year to go. After some faltering collaborations with outside artists (last year was pitiful), the collaborative group has found its footing again (if you’ll excuse the phrase) and is repeating the 20th’s wonderful program the 21st and 22nd at DPAC.

In Penn & Teller, the comedic magician-escape artists, Pilobolus has found an intriguing match. Together they made a strange and unforgettable hybrid. Commissioned by the ADF, [esc] received its world premiere on the 20th at DPAC, where it was received with howls of approval from the audience. The first section is structured like a classic escape act, with audience members helping to build a box and secure four dancers in various ways. They then release themselves through feats of agility and magic, which I won’t spoil here.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

Following immediately was Licks, by Trish Sie and Renee Jaworski and the dancers. It is another ADF commission, also having its premiere. Licks is pure dance, with ropes, to a mixtape of high energy music. The theme is again escape, which always requires previous capture or restraint, as we have just seen.  Many variations on escape and its predecessors are gorgeously danced out in classically elegant Pilobolean choreography, with its flow through recombinant structures and groupings. The ropes, although we know the dancers are manipulating them, seem as alive as the people (as do the kites, in a charming video preceding [esc]). The ropes come in handy to visualize another of Pilobolus’ ongoing preoccupations, the behavior of wave forms not normally visible to the naked eye. Together, [esc] and Licks are a little bit spooky, with a slightly dangerous feel, especially Licks.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From Licks, June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

The program’s first half includes the marvelous, funny, Molly’s Not Dead (1978) for six dancers in red, orange or yellow Lycra bodysuits. Both the shape-making and the silly carrying-on in this are first-rate. All Is Not Lost (2011) romps light-heartedly with the coolness of imaging technology. The dancers mount a special glass table and a video camera underneath captures their images and flips them upright to project them on a screen beside the live action. It is a blast to see the dancers from underneath, especially when the group is making like a crayfish. Following this was the fantastically beautiful, and beautifully danced, Ocellus (1972), choreographed by some of Pilobolus’ original members for a male quartet. All this richness, and then two world premieres. A very good night at ADF.

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