‘God of Carnage’ runs through Feb. 1 at the Alliance Theatre.
The Alliance Theatre’s production of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage has some mighty big shoes to fill.
The original Broadway production had an all-star cast featuring Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden. All four were nominated for 2009 Tony Awards, with Harden winning best leading actress in a play, Matthew Warchus winning for best direction and the production taking home best play honors.
Fortunately, director Kent Gash — the Alliance’s former associate artistic director and current director of NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ New Studio on Broadway: Music, Theatre & Acting — is more than up to the challenge. His version of the play uses an all African-American cast that includes Jasmine Guy, Keith Randolph Smith, Crystal Fox and Geoffrey Darnell Williams, providing a unique cultural lens through which to view Reza’s potent story. Encore Atlanta spoke with Gash to get his take on God of Carnage.
What do you think it is about playwright Yasmina Reza that people respond to in such a powerful manner?
I think both this play and [her breakthrough play] Art speak to the surface challenges of life; in this case, the ongoing adventure of parenting and responsibility for our actions. God Of Carnage is seductively entertaining while always testing who we are, who we think we are and what primal instincts lurk beneath the veneer of civilization. At our core, are we really that evolved as a species? There are big, complex questions explored, but the exploration is always on a human scale, engaging our hearts and our heads.
What is it about God of Carnage‘s story that resonates with you as a director?
What I find powerful is that no one is what they seem to be on the surface. So often in life we’re put in situations that call into question who we are, what we’re made of and what’s important to us. What lengths will we go to when our family is threatened? How quickly do we become territorial, tribal or clannish? Is that instinct, impulse or both? What do our faces look like when we remove the mask of civilization and good manners? I began my career as an actor, and any play that features four extraordinarily complex characters is a feast for consummate actors. The opportunity to bring this work to Atlanta audiences with this glorious cast was too good to refuse.
The topic of violence and bullying in schools has become increasingly sensitive. Do you feel the show taps into our cultural zeitgeist in some way?
I definitely think that the play has become more timely now than when it was originally written. Sadly, bullying (and its tragic aftermath) is a greater problem now than ever before. But the play is less about the bullying and brutality among children and more about how much the adults may become animals, or children, when trying to act calmly and rationally on behalf of their offspring.
Your production of the play is the first to use an African-American cast. Why is that important, and what dimensions do you think your approach adds to the show?
I think the all African-American cast is important simply because there are four consummate African-American actors who will be giving bravura performances. We will not change the text; we will simply tell the story through this cultural lens. I think there will be unique nuances brought to this production by virtue of the cultural context. Atlanta is a rich and diverse cosmopolitan city with a thriving African-American population that’s as educated, successful and diverse as the four characters onstage. People will see themselves, or their friends and neighbors. Sometimes the best theatre reflects its audience and the community that receives the work. This seemed like a wonderful way to present God of Carnage to all of Atlanta.
In the end, what do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I hope that the audience is sore from laughing uproariously and moved from getting a glimpse of themselves. Most of all, I hope that we continue to act in ways that bring our idea of ourselves at our best closer in line with our behavior, our actions and how we treat each other.
Bret Love is the founder of ecotourism/conservation site GreenGlobalTravel.com; the national managing editor of INsite magazine; and music editor for Georgia Music Magazine. He freelances for more than a dozen other national and international publications, and performs on numerous improv teams with Jackpie at Relapse Theatre.