By Dan Guarino
Described boldly as a “comedy of manners…without the manners,” “God of Carnage” opens at the Rockaway Theatre Company on Friday, September 8, and runs through Sunday, September 24, at RTC’s Post Theater at Fort Tilden.
“‘God of Carnage’ is laugh out loud funny!” says director Frank Caiati. From the start, the stage is set as two sets of parents meet together in civilized fashion to discuss a playground altercation between grade school boys. Then things get complicated.
Watching “Carnage’s” four actors throw themselves, sometimes literally, into the play at rehearsals, the audience starts to feel like they’re observing a roller coaster slowly inching its way up, only to hit the top and start its inevitable downward tilt, knowing full-well something their characters do not. That this ride has no brakes.
Caiati explains, “The play begins with a simple premise and then goes full-throttle off-the-rails as the four characters collide. There are a few twists along the way, a good deal of physical comedy, and some surprisingly profound ideas which are tackled.”
“God of Carnage” opened on Broadway in 2009, and ran for 452 successful performances. Originally starring Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini, with roles later taken on by Lucy Liu, Janet McTeer and Dylan Baker. The 2011 film version, directed by Roman Polanski, starred Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster.
“I was fortunate enough to see the play when it was on Broadway,” Caiati recalls, “and it has stuck with me since. I remember laughing so much in the theater. And also thinking deeply about the play’s themes on the subway ride back home.”
“‘God of Carnage’ is my type of play—abrasive, quick, thought-provoking, shocking and a bit absurd. RTC has been trying to secure the performance rights to this show for about a decade, and this season we were finally granted them. Once the approval came through, it was full steam ahead!”
Caiati, who started in theater in his teens, notes he’s been involved with the Rockaway Theatre Company for 20 years as an actor, set designer and director. Along with directing dramas like “The Great Gatsby” and “The Elephant Man,” he’s also helmed raucous musicals like last year’s “Honeymoon In Vegas.” As a director he notes, “Last year’s mega-spectacle ‘Honeymoon In Vegas’ is about as different from this small, four-actor, one-set show as could be.” About going from “Vegas’” large cast, multitude of colorful costumes, many sets, fast paced scene changes and music to the smaller-setting comedy of “Carnage,” he adds, “I enjoy bouncing between genres, writing styles, (and) spectacle and kitchen-sink dramas. Switching that up often keeps me inspired, and I’d like to think keeps our audiences interested.”
Also on the production’s creative side is multitalented Adele Wendt, who has been part of RTC for the past seven years as an actor, dancer, singer, costumer, set builder and more. Here she takes a new role for the first time as stage manager.
The “Carnage” cast includes actor and director Thom Harmon, playing Alan Raleigh, making his debut with RTC here, and actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer Cassaundra Reed, as Annette Raleigh, who appeared in RTC’s musicals “Cabaret” and “Hello, Dolly” earlier this year.
Playing Michael and Veronica Novak, respectively, are actor/dancer/singer Jim Kattan, who has appeared in RTC’s “A Few Good Men,” “Cabaret’ and “Hello, Dolly” and actor Patricia Damon who has worked on stage, television and film and now makes her RTC debut.
“This cast has been a dream to work with!” says director Caiati. “They are fun, easygoing, talented and super-bold. If there ever was a play that allows actors to ‘chew the scenery,’ this is it. The playwright, Yasmina Reza, tasks them with verbally dexterous material as well as physically challenging situations. Adele and I laughed so much at every rehearsal. We are having fun and creating something of which we are all very proud. It’s not always like that in a rehearsal process.”
The comedy and conflict starts to take off as the onstage evening wears on. Truths come out, stories change, perspectives shift and relationship tensions start boil over. As Caiati explains it, the themes of the show include “human nature in the face of conflict, the impulsive self, or the ‘id,’ as Freud would say, that bubbles just beneath the surface of civility, and parenthood and the protection of one’s family.”
What follows is a free-for-all of satire-filled connections and disconnections, swiftly shifting allegiances and alliances, surprising outbursts, brittle breakdowns, collapsing pretensions, swirling psychodramas, sheer lunacy and fast galloping absurdity. As one character in the fray intones, “I believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled, uninterruptedly, since the dawn of time.”
“The takeaway I hope the audience leaves with,” Caiati explains, “is both ‘That was hysterical! Those people were terrible!’ and also ‘Those people are just like me.’”
“Many people haven’t heard of ‘God of Carnage,’ so this title could seem like a bit of question-mark. For me, discovering new plays as an audience member is part of the fun of theater! I encourage our audiences to take the risk. I can guarantee that they’ll laugh. I can guarantee that they’ll think. I can guarantee they’ll have a fantastic time. ‘God of Carnage’ promises to deliver!”
Or as one ‘Carnage’ character exclaims in near-hysterics, “What goes on in Cobble Hill Park is a reflection of Western society!”
Get your tickets for a comedic ringside seat for “God of Carnage” at www.Rockawaytheatrecompany.org. Performances are Fridays/Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., September 8 through 24.