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.

The Dark Music of NOCTURNE at Burning Coal Theatre thru 3/24

My review of this tough and tender play was published 3/15/13 on CVNC.org, with the title “Being and Not Being: Mortall Coile’s Graceful Nocturne at Burning Coal.”

Jesse Gephart on the set of NOCTURNE. Photo: LeGrande Smith.

Jesse Gephart on the set of NOCTURNE. Photo: LeGrande Smith.

Actor Jesse R. Gephart is Mortall Coile Theatre Company (MCTC): he created this identity for the purpose of producing shows when possible in temporarily available local spaces. It’s a good name, for Gephart certainly knows something about soliloquy, and it is particularly fitting, too, for the Adam Rapp play Nocturne, which MCTC has produced as part of Burning Coal Theatre’s Wait ‘Til You See This! Series. Dana Marks directs; Gephart is the only actor in the affecting story that opens with the line, “Fifteen years ago I killed my sister.”



Power Play: RICHIE Goes a-Roving as Little Green Pig remixes Richard II

Queen Richie, Euro-trash party girl.

You never know what you will get, with the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. But you do know it will not be average, mediocre, or even normal. There is no middle ground with these folks, who go flat out for broke with every production. It’ll be heaven, or it will be really bad. If you know the company’s work, you tend not to care when something comes out stinky—it is just the price of the work that works.

Dana Marks as Richie, and Jane Holding as her aunt, Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke, as twilight falls on LGP’s roving RICHIE.

It is working this time.

LGP’s current production shakes loose from nearly all conventions. It’s Shakespeare—modified, adulterated, transgendered and ripped out of the frame—but still, recognizably Shakespeare. LGP’s artistic director Jay O’Berski, along with fellow travelers such as Tom Marriott and Jeffrey Detwiler, both of whom are involved here, have long demonstrated great sensitivity to the plays of Shakespeare, and huge skills at upending expectations of them while guarding their core of meaning and language. With RICHIE they’ve gone where no man has gone before.

Richard II is a dark play, difficult and mean. With an all-female cast and a contemporary conceit, Richie is just as dark, hard and mean.

Wait, an all-female cast? Oh yes, and that changes a lot of things. When all those fathers and sons and uncles and nephews and boy cousins become mothers and daughters and aunts and nieces and girls cousins, you have got some different chemistry to contend with. The end result of the power plays remains the same, but you get there by a different route. Not content with merely rewriting Shakespeare and giving all the power to the women, and certainly not content with merely “breaking the fourth wall” of the theater, LGP has ditched the theater all together, and gone a-roving, marshalled by director Jay O’Berski in one of his more brilliant endeavors.

Dana Marks leads the cast as Richie, high-living, bling-dripping, Euro-trash queen of her entourage. Her huge performance tells us all we need to know about charismatic personal power. Like her entourage (the present day substitute for the royal Court), we unquestioningly follow her from pub to club: from the fashionable haunts and seedy purlieux of Riggsbee Avenue, past the gloomy facade of shuttered, hulking Liberty warehouse, up and down the slick dales of DurhamCentral Park—to Richard’s bitter end, known and expected, but nonetheless shocking when it comes to Richie. The final scene imprints your mind, an unforgettable projection in the dark, outside the guardhouse.

Marks’ performance is magnificent. Seeing her stride through street and crowd in her black lace doublet (very Prada—see September Vogue—but probably by costumer Kala Wolfe, or one of the four other contributing local fashion designers), I realized I’d never seen Marks on a big stage. She could command the DPAC! and her vocal skills are such that she could be heard in the balcony. As it was, she made herself heard over pub roar, traffic growl, and Gram Parsons covers at Motorco, with her most delicate soliloquy occurring outside Geer Street Garden, with people coming and going through her scene.

Jane Holding as Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke

Not all the cast has equally strong vocal capabilities, but certainly the two that need it most, do. The marvelous Jane Holding plays Mary-Gaunt Bolingbroke to a T. I wanted to put her on re-wind, just to listen to her speeches again. She’s Richie’s aged aunt, and in their first scene together we begin to sense just how the feminization of the play torques it. Mary-Gaunt is also the mother of Hayley (not Henry), who will by wiles wrest the royal star from her cousin. Tamara Kissane

Tamara Kissane as the cold, charming usurper, Haley Bolingbroke.

(so good to see her in action with such a dynamic role) sizzles like dry ice, and you can be sure butter would not melt in her mouth. You can actually hear her throughout, but you wouldn’t have to: Her physical presence and styled behaviors, so cool and clean, mark her as the new star each time we see her in Richie’s fevered presence.

I have wasted time, and now time doth waste me.

Mention cannot be made of every cast member, even though they all have their special moments. Notable, however, are Kana Hatakeyama and Alyssa Crash Wong as “Momo” Northumberland and her daughter, “Hotstuff.” You know Northumberland—the Duke, with his sons dukes after him for generations, who keeps a finger to the winds of change, always ensuring a fair breeze blows on him. He’s the very model of a modern party-switcher, and in any alliance he makes between power and loyalty, he will always retain power and ditch the loyalty. Momo and Hotstuff perform that baronial function well. One wishes only that we could go on for the next few plays and see Hotstuff  (Henry Hotspur Percival) mature into her coming set-to with Hayley’s (Henry) line.

Thinking back on the numerous fascinating productions of Shakespeare by The Somnambulist Project/Shakespeare & Originals/Little Green Pig, I’m awed to realize once again that we live in a place (…this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this DURHAM…) where Shakespeare lives on, thanks in great part to the aforenamed purveyors of the word. I’m personally addicted to the plays of Shakespeare, and will go at any opportunity. Whether or not you are so addicted, do not miss this up-to-the-minute remake of one of the great, tough, ones. RICHIE points its flashlights in the dark, like swords, stabbing at the corruption, cruelty, and conniving that remain always in fashion, whomever may be leading the entourage.

Let us talk of graves. In the skateboard pit in Durham Central Park.

RICHIE continues on the streets of Durham Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30, through Sept. 22. For information, http://www.littlegreenpig.com. Email tickets@littlegreenpig, or call 919-452-2304. Please be assured that even in the gloaming, the show looks better than my cell phone pictures!

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