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.

Ivey on Ice Skates, and Other Pleasures in THE HOMOSEXUALS at Manbites

UPDATE: DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND, THE RUN OF THIS SHOW HAS BEEN EXTENDED THROUGH MAY 25. PLAYWRIGHT PHILIP DAWKINS WILL BE PRESENT FOR A POST-SHOW CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR JEFF STORER ON FRIDAY, MAY 25.

The play that’s running through May 18, closing out Manbites Dog Theater‘s jubilant 25th season, may be the very best I’ve seen in all their years. A script without a false note, The Homosexuals provides opportunity for extraordinary ensemble acting by several of the Triangle’s most consistently fine actors, under the direction of Jeff Storer, MDT’s co-founder and professor in Duke’s Theater Studies program. Philip Dawkins’ bright 2011 play has a moving story, with likable characters who engage in delicious dialogue during believable situations as they all search for love and happiness. And, it is all about being “gay, gay, GAY!”

Evan (Ryan Brock) and British Mark (Thaddaeus Edwards) meet to discuss real estate and other important things. Photo: Alan Dehmer

Evan (Ryan Brock) and British Mark (Thaddaeus Edwards) meet to discuss real estate and other important things. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

The first three contenders for best-ever at Manbites that sprang to mind were The Vanishing Point, from 2007; God’s Ear, from 2010; and The Brothers Size, from 2012. Jeff Storer directed two of these (Joseph Megel the third) but Derrick Ivey–who is fabulous, darling, as theatre director Peter in The Homosexuals–had something to do with the excellence of each of the earlier three, through lead roles and/or set design. He’s crucial here, though inseparable from the rest of the ensemble.

The multi-talented Ivey also designed costumes and the versatile set for The Homosexuals, in which the action moves backwards in time. Simple pieces are rearranged as needed for the scenes–the same objects can become beds or sofas or benches–and behind them in a dimly lit arc against the back wall wait the props and actors of the future scenes, scenes have already occurred and that form part of the collective memory for the friends we’re watching on stage at the moment. Ranged behind, out of reach of fear and struggle and joy, the characters off stage observe their past unfold with attentive tenderness. Our observation of their observation tinges the fresh immediacy of the situations with a poignant hue: This is a lovely stage device to augment to lovely, transparent acting.

The first scene opens with Evan (Ryan Brock, pictured left, above) waiting for Peter (Derrick Ivey) at a skating rink. Watching the upright Ivey, who usually does not flail around on stage, make his entrance on ice skates, flamboyant and teetering, is alone worth the ticket price. But everything after that is even better.

The year is 2010, a decade after the young Evan arrived in the big city. He left in the hinterlands a family who couldn’t love him when he came out as gay. He arrived, like so many before him, scared, confused, hurt, poor, and ready for the big adventure. Ryan Brock could have been built for this role. He’s ridiculously good-looking (and still young enough to look very young) with eyes that could melt an iceberg, and he doesn’t waste any energy on pointless moment, saving it for real action.  Almost in a daze upon his arrival, Evan goes to a candy store (!) and meets Michael (beautifully played by Jeffrey Moore), a really nice guy who invites him to a party, where he meets the close circle of friends who become his friends immediately. Except for Tam (Amber Wood, tough, wise-assed and affectionate), who marries British Mark so he can get a green card (Thaddaeus Edwards, impeccable whether his trousers are on or off), it’s a circle of men, gay men. Sometimes and for a while they may be lovers, but they are always friends–to such a degree that they constitute a family.

But we get all that gradually, through the six scenes, each centered on Evan’s interactions with a different friend, and each taking us back two years, until we arrive at the fateful party in 2000, when Evan meets everyone, and we get a glimpse of what drove him away from his former home. In addition to those mentioned above, the group includes Mark (Gregor McElvogue, charming, eloquent, irascible and a little daunting) and Collin (Chris Burner, very funny and endearing). We learn something of everyone’s struggles and adventures, especially in love and lust, and while we don’t watch them grow into the kind honest humans they become, we do get to see how they got that way. Damned if it isn’t about enough to renew faith in humanity. Plus, there are a lot of fine physiques on view.

At the party: British Mark (Thaddaeus Edwards) and Collin (Chris Burner) dish with Tam (Amber Wood). Photo: Alan Dehmer.

At the party: British Mark (Thaddaeus Edwards) and Collin (Chris Burner) dish with Tam (Amber Wood). Photo: Alan Dehmer.

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, swashbuckling and singing once again as The Durham Savoyards celebrate 50 years of frolicking fun at the Carolina

The lead characters in Durham Savoyards' 50th anniversary production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Photo: Joe Cohn.

The lead characters in Durham Savoyards’ 50th anniversary production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Photo: Joe Cohn.

In need of some unalloyed entertainment with singing, dancing, bold costumes, and a happy ending? The Durham Savoyards are at your service. For the 50th year, this energetic group of Gilbert and Sullivan lovers is putting on one of G&S’s comic operettas–for their golden anniversary they chose the one they started with, The Pirates of Penzance. The performances running through March 24 at the Carolina Theatre of Durham comprise The Savoyards’ seventh production of Pirates since 1963. Two cast members from the first show, Carol and Jim Sackett, sing in this show’s Royal Chorus, and there are many other long-time Savoyards along with the fresh young ones. The audience on the 15th spanned an even wider age range, approximately 8 to 88, all of whom seemed to enjoy themselves mightily.

Directed clearly and deftly choreographed this year by Derrick Ivey, with Alan Riley Jones conducting a cogent, well-rehearsed orchestra, it’s a strong show. Diane Woodard’s costumes are varied and expressive, especially the pirate maid Ruth’s, and Richard Dideriksen’s set works very well, especially the chapel where everyone hides and chases each other leading to the climax.

On the 15th, the lead characters were all in good voice, with Kenny Cruz as Frederick and Mary Elisabeth Hirsch as Mabel singing particularly well. Jim Burnette, Jr., was rich as the Pirate King, and Stuart Albert as Major-General Stanley–well, he was the very model. Elizabeth Artemis Clark repeatedly threatened to run away with the show as Pirate Ruth. Her voice wasn’t very strong, but her slashing style made up for it. Ray Ubinger made a fine, morose, Sergeant of Police.

Several microphones hung over the stage helped the choruses to remain clear above the orchestra; generally the sound was well balanced. Since the silly lyrics provide much of the fun in Gilbert and Sullivan, I appreciated the care that had been taken to get good sound. In fact, I appreciate the whole preposterous enterprise, with its battalions of cheerful, talented men and women who spend untold hours playing hard so that we may laugh.

Tickets through the Carolina website or box office.

as Ruth and as Frederick in Gilbert and Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. The Durham Savoyards production runs at the Carolina Theatre through March 24.

Elizabeth Artemis Clark as Ruth, and Kenny Cruz as Frederick, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. The Durham Savoyards production runs at the Carolina Theatre through March 24. Photo: Joe Cohn.

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