Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Florida Rep Presents God of Carnage

Back in the fall, I culled through this season's theater offerings from Sarasota to Fort Myers and came up with a list of about 15 shows  that I was  interested in seeing.  When I shared the list with my usual suspects, the Tony Award-Winning God of Carnage at Florida Repertory Theater made the cut, and last week-end's activities included a Sunday matinee performance (permitting me to get home in time to watch the Giants beat the Packers--I was wondering how I was going to work that in!)

Robert Cacioppo, Florida Rep's artistic director, took the stage before the performance started to welcome us and to share Terry Teachout's review of the show in the Wall Street Journal.  "...Having reveled in Matthew Warcus' star-studded 2009 Broadway production, I was curious to see how 'God of Carnage' would hold up when played by less familiar faces, so I flew down to Fort Myer's to check out the Florida Repertory's production.  I'm delighted to report that Florida Rep's staging, directed with hair-trigger precision by Dennis Lee Delaney, is at least as good as the Broadway version, and better in one respect.  The casting is less predictable."   First of all, I want this guy's job.  Second, wow.  With this review in mind, it was showtime.

In God of Carnage, two sets of parents get together to discuss their 11 year old sons' recent schoolyard confrontation.   The meeting is held at the home of Veronica and Michael Novak whose child Henry was injured in the incident.  The objective of the meeting is a bit unclear.  Surprisingly, there are no threats of lawsuits or implications that they are looking for monetary reimbursement.  The Novaks seem to just want the other kid to understand the seriousness of what he's done and to make a proper apology to their son.  Annette and Alan Raleigh, parents of the stick-wielding Benjamin, are apologetic but seem a bit confused about why they're there.  Over the next 90 minutes, they "discuss" everything from their kids to their marriages to the pharmaceutical industry to the situation in Darfur in an increasingly hilarious and farcical manner.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about the play was watching the dynamics of the foursome as mini-alliances were created and broken apart.  Each couple presents a more or less united front at the beginning of the meeting but it becomes clear pretty quickly that neither father thinks that what's happened is such a big deal.   When it is revealed that the reason for the altercation was that Henry wouldn't let Benjamin join his "gang", the men lapse into their own reminiscences about the "gangs" they were in when they were kids, creating a momentary bond.  The Novaks and Annette bond together over their irritation about the constant interruption of phone calls to Alan, a self-important lawyer.  (Need I say more?)  The women of course end up bonding over the shortcomings of their husbands.

As I was watching the performance, I found myself thinking about how the roles would have been played by the big name actors on Broadway, especially James Gandolfini who took on the role of Michael Novak.  Gandolfini is so linked in my mind to his portrayal of Tony Soprano that it was hard to get away from the associations--and that was when I was watching a production that didn't even include him in the cast!  My friend Steph commented after the show that she thought the Novak character was Jackie Gleason-like and that, as his facade dissolved, she was envisioning a "to the moon, Alice!" moment.  I couldn't make an association like that in my mind because I was too caught up in how Gandolfini would have played the character.  This brings me back to the WSJ review.  I don't know if I would use the word "unexpected" with respect to the casting at Florida Rep but I would say that seeing productions without household names permits me to enjoy the show and the acting for what they are.  It's of course always fun to see someone famous, but it's also exciting to discover local actors, particularly in a repertory company setting where you can see their work in a variety of productions.

The bottom line is that Florida Rep's production of God of Carnage was terrific.   The quality, variety, and accessibility of theater in Southwest Florida continues to surprise and impress me.   What a wonderful little corner of the world we have here!  

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