Tag Archives: God of Carnage

Neanderthals making nice?

Cast of Arizona Theatre Company production of God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

There’s a point in the play “God of Carnage” where things take a decided turn, but making it that far into the Arizona Theatre Company production, which I saw on opening night, took some doing. I found myself thinking, “I can’t take any more of these plays about people whining on pristine sofas.”

Soon slurs, swearing and something best left unnamed before the uninitiated start spewing forth — and the story develops at a quickening pace. Still, theater afficianonado Alan Handelsman, who was part of the first class of ASU Gammage Goer reviewers, felt “there was something missing” in the opening night performance.

Handelsman and his wife Anita saw the play a couple of years ago in New York City, and he’s got a clear preference for the NYC version’s vibe — feeling it had more “energy, commitment, rhythm, flow, surprise, pacing, abandon, arc and continuity.” Even simple prop choices, he recalls, gave the NYC production “a much greater sense of impending danger.”

Clockwise: Joey Parsons, Bob Sorenson, Amy Resnick and Benjamin Evett in the ATC production of God of Carnage

The Arizona Theatre Company production was good, says Handelsman, but not great. Despite being surrounded at the Herberger Theater Center by people laughing loud and proud, I’m afraid I have to concur. “God of Carnage” felt a bit of a letdown — perhaps because I went into it expecting so much. “God of Carnage” won the 2009 Tony Award for best play.

Other people whose opinions I respect felt differently. I saw Frances Smith Cohen, artistic director for Center Dance Ensemble, and her daughter Rachel Cohen in the theater foyer after the show, and both praised its artistry. Rachel loved “the writing and directing” and Frances “the contrast in characters.” My own theater baby Lizabeth, who has studied dance with both, would likely take their side.

We talked via “Skype” after I got home from the theater Saturday night, and Lizabeth was shocked when I shared my tepid response to the show. She saw “God of Carnage” in Chicago last year while touring colleges with my husband James. Both remember it being fabulously funny.

Lizabeth described it as “well written and well acted” — and shared that she loved watching the different characters evolve during the course of the story. Seems she was amused by just how “quickly the adults became the children.”

“God of Carnage” centers on two couples’ attempts at a civilized conversation after their sons spar on a playground. “You just don’t expect it to go as far as it does,” reflects Lizabeth. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen dad laugh that much,” she recalls. “He totally let loose.”

“Maybe.” she says, “it was his way of letting off steam after all the things that happened when we were little.” Seems she’s observed that the things we sometimes took too much to heart as young parents now fall into more perspective. “You used to take it all so seriously,” she told me. “You guys have learned to let go since then.”

The journey from kindergarden to college does effect profound changes. But the parents in “God of Carnage” have survived only grade school, and the perils of middle school are proving a bit more daunting. After meeting to discuss one boy’s use of a stick and another’s missing teeth, they demonstrate that words are perhaps the worst weapons of all.

The parents who seem so perfectly civilized to begin with soon dissolve into shreiking narcissism and nihilism, something that feels more believable once alcohol enters the picture. I hate to think any of us could trade “nice” for “Neanderthal” so quickly in its absence.

Handelsman, a highly-trained hypnotherapist, says the play reveals “how many different layers humans live in” — showing “the difference between the person we show, and the person we are, and the person we may be afraid we are.” Confronted with the final image in this production, we realize that humans haven’t evolved nearly as far as they imagine.

— Lynn

Note: This original production, directed by Rick Lombardo, is a co-production of Arizona Theatre Company and San Jose Repertory Theatre (which performs it next spring). Yasmina Reza has teamed with Roman Polanski to write the screenplay for a movie titled “Carnage,” directed by Polanski and scheduled for mid-December release. It stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Click here to learn about another opportunity to see the play performed live. Please note that “God of Carnage” contains “mature content.”

Coming up: Advice for young filmmakers, Handelsman shares his “Wicked” ways, Holiday shopping “arts and culture” style, The fine “Art” of Yasmina Reza

Photos: Tim Fuller for Arizona Theatre Company


Moms in musical theater

Patti LuPone as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway-Photo by Joan Marcus. LuPone performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts March 3, 2012.

I got to thinking about mothers in musical theater the other day while looking forward to the return of “Mamma Mia!” to ASU Gammage this week, which my daughter Lizabeth is eager to see for a second time. Apparently watching a fictional parent prance around in bell bottoms has more appeal than living with the real thing.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Next to Normal-Photo by Joan Marcus

We’ve seen all sorts of parents portrayed on Valley, and other, stages. We saw Alice Ripley perform the role of “Diana” in “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. Estelle Parsons perform the role of “Violet” in “August: Osage County” at ASU Gammage. And Rich Hebert perform the role of “Dad” in “Billy Elliot” at ASU Gammage as well.

“Mamma Mia!” follows the adventures of a young daughter, “Sophie,” readying to wed. She lives on an island with her mom, “Donna,” who isn’t quite sure which of three suitors from her own youth might be Sophie’s biological father. It’s all set to music by ABBA and it’s an especially fun show for folks who like their theater upbeat and awash with bright colors.

Madalena Alberto as Fantine in Les Mis-Photo by Michael La Poer Trench

A mother facing a more serious dilemma, the care of her young daughter in her absence, is at the heart of the next musical coming to ASU Gammage — Les Miserables. As a mom named “Fantine” who has sacrificed much for her child lay dying, an ex-convict named “Jean Valjean” vows to keep the child “Cosette” safe. It proves quite a task given his own past and stirrings of revolution in early 19th century France.

The perplexing nature of parenting seems sometimes to be the only thing fueling the future of theater craft. A quick review of shows coming to Valley stages during the 2011/12 season reveals a long list of works filled with mommy or daddy issues — some set to music, others just words.

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna and Chloe Tucker as Sophie in Mamma Mia!-Photo by Joan Marcus

Arizona Theatre Company presents the Yasmina Rez play “God of Carnage” in Tucson and Phoenix this fall. It’s the tale of two couples brought together by a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons. I’m delighted to learn that mothers and daughters aren’t always the ones under the microscope.

Phoenix Theatre performs a classic work of musical theater about stage mothering gone horribly wrong next spring. “Gypsy” is the story of “Mama Rose” and the two daughters forced to endure her insecurity and interference. That woman needs to cut the cord already.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” based on a book in which Sheri Mandell shares experiences surrounding the murder of her 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef. It’s been adapted for the stage by Todd Salovey, and reviews of other productions paint it as gut-wrenching.

While I suppose it’s tempting for some to relish all those ABBA moments without experiencing more sobering reflections on parenting, I’m looking forward to doing both.

— Lynn

Look to these nuns for some serious fun... (Photo: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts)

Note: Looking for an additional way to enjoy mother/daughter or grown-up friend time? Head to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Sat, May 21 for the “Sing-Along Sound of Music.” $12/adults, $6 children ages 3-12. Warm up & costume contest at 2pm, film and sing-along at 2:3opm. Hosted by “Sister” Patti Hannon of “Late Night Catechism.” Click here for info on costume discount available from Mardi Gras costumes in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Summer dance classes, Ode to season tickets, Seuss meets symphony, Musings on photo I.D.

White noise

Years ago the airwaves were full of infomercials for white noise generators — nifty devices that supposedly produce something capable of drowning out other distractions. I never tried one, though, since sound has been such a profound part of my parenting experience.

I wonder at times whether my children developed their own white noise force fields as teens — because it sometimes felt like everything I said bounced right back to me before making that split second journey from ear canal to brain.

White Noise, A Cautionary Musical is now on stage in Chicago

Recently I learned of a musical titled “White Noise” — currently playing at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. The news came across my desk with a host of other alerts from the “Teaching Tolerance” program of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I was disappointed by the timing of my discovery, which came just days after Lizabeth returned from Chicago, though harrowing hamster tales and tidbits she shared about dark moments from another show did serve to slightly assuage my guilt.

Lizabeth saw “God of Carnage” at the Goodman Theatre over the weekend, and even thought to get me a souvenir pen for future writing ventures. She revealed that her dad, not a giggling sort of a guy, laughed throughout — and that they also enjoyed their time together at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After James and I first married in Southern California more than two decades ago, both our homes and his offices were decorated with prints of famous pieces of art — many from the Art Institute of Chicago collection. I imagine he was especially pleased to visit the museum with one of our three children.

“Chicago” is one on a small list of shows he didn’t want Lizabeth to see when it came to the Valley several years ago — fearing she was too young for some of the content. But she’s grown into all sorts of mature-content theater since then.

God of Carnage is part of the 2011-2012 season for Arizona Theatre Company

“God of Carnage” is being mounted next season by Arizona Theatre Company — which Lizabeth expects will do it great justice. And Broadway World reported recently that a film adaptation to feature Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet (as two moms of children who have a bit of a playgound tussle) is in the works.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for ways to see “White Noise,” which is being produced by Whoopi Goldberg. The cautionary tale is described as “an edgy new rock musical about a white separatist singing duo.” The musical “challenges conventional notions of free speech, media and the power of pop culture.”

An educational guide for working with high school and college age students has been developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center — which says the musical “raises important issues about the power of hate speech in our culture and should inspire people of conscious to call out those who engage in it.”

It feels particularly timely as tragic events continue to unfold in the aftermath of one man’s decision to burn a book held sacred by millions across the globe. Sometimes we fight on the playground, other times on the world stage.

I’m grateful for works like “God of Carnage” and “White Noise,” which help us hear the hate — then work together in peaceful ways to not merely mask it, but to eradicate it from our personal and collective lives.

— Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College presents the next film in its “The Many Faces of Hate” film series on April 27, 6:30-8:30pm in the Turquoise Room on the SCC campus (take the 1o1, exit at Chaparral, then head east to land at SCC). The documentary, “Strange Fruit,” will be followed by a moderated discussion.

Coming up: Musings on “Macbeth” from Valley students

Chicago envy?

I spent an evening in Chicago once — if a trip to and from the airport and a concert venue counts. It was many years ago, and I made the journey with my youngest daughter after a foiled attempt to meet the Jonas Brothers during a Phoenix meet and greet.

The Phoenix concert venue erred in getting us the wristbands and details needed to attend the Phoenix meet and greet, an opportunity Lizabeth won through a contest sponsored by one of her favorite stores. So we tried again in Chicago, but fared no better.

I’ll spare you the details, although I have Chicago on the brain this weekend because Lizabeth, now a 17-year-old high school senior, is there visiting one of her top three college/conservatory choices — and seeing the play “God of Carnage.”

This poster (from All Posters) features a Richard Cummins photograph of the Chicago Theatre

When I think Chicago, I think museums. I think deep-dish pizza. I think Barack Obama. I think cutting-edge theater, and plenty of it. And sometimes I even get “Chicago envy” — wishing Phoenix had the same wealth of diverse theater options.

But I enjoyed a bit of an attitude adjustment Friday when I read some thoughts sent via e-mail by Tom Tiding, writer and sole performer in the 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival piece titled “Twisted: Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad.”

“I chose to debut ‘Twisted’ in Phoenix,” wrote Tiding, “partly because there’s such a can-do attitude in Arizona.” Then he added the following:

“Phoenix has this fantastic growing arts scene where it just feels like anything is possible. When I began researching the arts scene in Phoenix, I was blown away by the diversity of people’s experiences– I started reading your posts, and it’s just like a breath of fresh air. It’s so inclusive and positive.”

“I’ve got long-time friends in Arizona,” wrote Tiding, “so I know the past few years have been tough, but I think that can-do attitude is what will get everyone through the tough economic times and some of the divisions that go with that.”

I think I’d like this fellow even if he didn’t have such fine taste in blog posts. Seems he grew up in a family that always made homemade greeting cards for each other. “Mine,” he quips, “tended to be on the more sarcastic side.”

After seeing his cards displayed at an art exhibit, Tiding got requests from folks who wanted to buy them. Once retailers got ahold of the cards, they started asking Tiding how he ‘got so twisted.’ Tiding began sharing “snippets on the true stories behind the cards” — and the play “Twisted” was born.

There’s nothing like uncovering evidence to support one’s own convictions. So when Tiding shared the following, I felt vindicated in my advocacy for a crayon in every corner: “My family always made sure we had something we could draw or write with,” he wrote. “Mostly because it was cheaper and they didn’t have any money.”

Tiding, who nowadays works with a D.C.-based group called “Speakeasy,” includes plenty of family anecdotes during his “Twisted” piece. So those of you not whizzing off to Chicago for a show next weekend needn’t worry that you’re missing cutting-edge performance art.

Trust me when I tell you that his family is anything but typical. And that the only thing Chicago has on Phoenix when the Phoenix Fringe Festival comes around each year is the perfect pie.

— Lynn

Note: Twisted Tidings is “a greeting card company for people who want to throw up when they read greeting cards.” You can enjoy Tiding’s twisted theatrical performance April 8-10 at Modified Arts (as part of the 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival).

Coming up: Another cool artist who crafts poetic e-mails

Seeing red

It’s starting to feel like a bit of a conspiracy theory. Now that my daughter Lizabeth is readying to leave Arizona for college, several of the shows she’s most eager to see have started popping up around the Valley.

We were “seeing red” recently when we realized she’ll be well into her freshman year (at a college yet to be decided) before the Arizona premiere of a play that won six 2010 Tony Awards — including “best play.”

The work is John Logan’s “Red” — which is based on the true story of an artist grappling with “the commission of a lifetime.” The play is described as “a searing portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability.”

Apparently matters are complicated by a new assistant who questions the artist’s “views of art, creativity and commerce.” Their master/novice dialogue explores an age-old query: “Is art meant to provoke, soothe or disturb?”

“Red” is the final work in the recently unveiled Arizona Theatre Company 2011-2012 season, which opens with a world premiere titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.” It’s a Jeffrey Hatcher work based on “The Suicide Club” by Robert Louis Stevenson and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The 45th anniversary season slate for Arizona Theatre Company also features the Southwest premiere of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” which won the 2009 Tony Award for “best play.” Picture grown-ups trying to be civilized as they discuss their children’s misadventures on a playground — only to unravel as “political correctness” dissolves into “character assasination.”

The fact that bullying is such a hot topic of discussion these days makes this work especially intriguing. Perhaps it’ll answer one of my one burning questions: Why are parents (and politicians) who bully so suprised when children follow in their footsteps?

They’ll also present the Southwest premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” — a musical that’s based on the novel by Jean Webster. It features book by John Caird (who also directs), and music/lyrics by Paul Gordon.

“Daddy Long Legs” couples coming of age saga and love story. Told “through a series of letters,” it’s described as “a testament to the power of the written word.”

Valley theater-goers might have had more experience with the next show in ATC’s 2011-2012 season — “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” Lizabeth and I first saw this one at ASU Gammage, then at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“The 39 Steps,” which features four actors in well over 100 roles, is described by some as “spy novel meets Monty Python.” It’s the tale of a mild-mannered man who finds himself tangled up with murder, espionage and a dash of flirtacious misadventure. When well cast (which I certainly expect to be the case with ATC), it’s one of the funniest shows around.

An additional offering in the ATC 2011-2012 season is Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” — based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. It explores a world of wealth and privilege during the “jazz age” of 1920s America.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger season. And while Lizabeth is truly disappointed she won’t be here to experience these shows, ATC’s 2011-2012 offerings will serve me well by providing poignant, powerful fare and a much needed distraction as I miss my favorite theater companion.

— Lynn

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents their “Curtains Up Cabaret 2011” Sat, April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Musings on “message” movies, Valley teen does comedy