god of carnage
Feb. 13 through March 8, 2015 at the Malibu Playhouse, Malibu CA
By Jimy Tallal / Special to The Malibu Times
“God of Carnage” — opening soon at the Malibu Playhouse — brings to life what many parents might learn the hard way: we’re still cavemen and cavewomen underneath it all.
The comedy play depicts two sets of upper-middle-income parents meeting to discuss an incident that took place earlier that day – one of their 11-year-old sons knocked two teeth out of the other’s 11-year-old son in a fight.
The meeting begins in a friendly, civilized manner with the four parents discussing how to deal with the boys. Over the course of the 90-minute play, the gloves come off, and the discourse gradually degenerates into chaos, drunkenness and pointed insults – an entertaining verbal spectacular with plenty of physical comedy thrown in for good measure.
In the end, after the social veneers are stripped away, the parents’ behavior proves to be no better than the children’s, and just as primitive.
The Playhouse’s Board of Directors chose to do a play with four actors, no intermission and just one set, according to co-producer and board member Diane Namm.
The play’s director, Graeme Clifford, “has artfully and elegantly directed three prior successful playhouse productions: ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘Soldier’s Play’ and ‘Kimberly Akimbo,’” Namm wrote in an email. “He also recently taught ‘God of Carnage’ at Pepperdine University over several semesters.”
Currently taking a semester off from teaching, Clifford was free to take on the “seven days a week job” of directing the play and finding actors for each of the four roles.
“I was able to get three actors I’d worked with before – A Martinez, who I worked with on a TV series; Nick Stabile, who I directed in ‘Soldier’s Play,’ and Kathleen Dunn, who I directed in ‘Kimberly Akimbo.’” The fourth is actress Courtney Rackley.
Clifford has avoiding seeing other productions of “God of Carnage” because he doesn’t want it to influence his directing. He feels the small, intimate Malibu Playhouse “forces you to treat the material differently — I think I’m treating it with more realism.”
When asked about directing a comedy, Clifford said he’s keeping the humor focused on what the characters are doing and saying.
“These people are behaving ludicrously. It’s funny in spite of itself.”
He won’t allow a crossover into slapstick silliness like some productions he’s heard about.
“It’s funny, and it reflects what goes on at the sports field when parents are there supporting their kids,” Clifford said. “[In the play], each couple learns new things about what took place that they didn’t know before, and it alters their perspectives. Each acquires information that might be detrimental to how their child is seen.”
Martinez, with a long list of TV and film credits, said acting in “God of Carnage” is “more challenging than usual because everybody is on stage all the time. You have to work all together as a unit.”
He confirmed that there’s a tremendous amount of dialog for all the actors to memorize.
Unlike Clifford, Martinez has watched a number of different versions of the play.
“It seems bulletproof,” he said, “It’s so inherently mesmerizing, watching these people with such high self-regard become undone.”
Dunn said Clifford’s movie, “Frances,” which he directed in 1982, is what inspired her to become an actress.
“It’s very special to me to be working with somebody that had that much impact,” she said.
Stabile, who has a variety of film and TV acting credits, loves the character he’s playing.
“He’s not truthful to himself, and he’s not politically or socially correct,” Stabile said. “He makes no apologies. This is really fun for me – it’s freeing.”
Both Martinez and Stabile are Malibu residents and parents, and both say they’ve had the experience of getting to know the parents of other kids, and sometimes having to call those parents about a child’s behavior.
During a recent rehearsal, as the actors delivered their lines on stage, no detail escaped Clifford’s attention.
“I don’t think you should still have your shoes on at this moment,” he called out to one actor. “That hairdryer should be on the other side of the room.” And, a moment later, “We’ve got to do something about those cigars.”
A director’s work is never done.
“God of Carnage” runs at the Malibu Playhouse from Fri., Feb. 13 through Sun., March 8. For show dates, times and tickets, go to malibuplayhouse.org
The play demands exhausting emotional and physical performances and the actors respond superbly. Martinez, Dunn and Stabile are veterans of the Malibu Playhouse. Rackley is a busy television actor who is new to the Playhouse.
Kudos to director Graeme Clifford. This play, with its rapid-fire and overlapping dialogue and required precise choreographic movement, is a directorial challenge he met fully. - By Hank Pollard / The Malibu Times