October 23, 2012

Wrath of the Parents

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Budget cuts around Cornell may have limited some student resources, but for the students working on God of Carnage, directed by Jesse Turk ’14, they have also created some unique opportunities. God of Carnage, set to open at the Black Box Theater on October 25, will be one of the first fully student run shows to be staged at the Schwartz Center.  Just about every aspect of the show — directing, stage management, lights, set design — will be overseen by student volunteers. In the past, lights and stage were managed by professionals, and every rehearsal was supervised by a professor. Last Saturday, however, the cast rehearsed with four actors, a student director, a student stage manager, and the dark walls of the black box (and me). God of Carnage, written in 2008 by Yasmina Reza, has been a huge success in London and on Broadway. In 2009, the play earned the Tony Award for Best Play and every cast member received a Tony nomination. The play opens with a fight between two children, Benjamin and Henry, that ends with Benjamin knocking out Henry’s teeth with a stick. The boys’ parents gather one night to discuss what has happened between their children. As the night goes on, the meeting degenerates. The parents begin having irrational arguments and their discussion shifts to charged topics like homophobia and misogyny. The parents act increasingly childishly as the play progresses. The night becomes a showdown between the two couples. An image that is cleverly invoked by director Jesse, who chose to conduct the Schwartz production in the round. This simply means that the set will be at the center of the theater, and the audience will surround the stage. Think about a boxing match, but instead of throwing punches, these couples strike with pelted words and disdainful glares. In Jesse’s words, “A boxing match is entertaining to watch, but no one likes to do it.” The format Jesse has chosen reiterates one of the core ideas of the play. As Jesse puts it, “a lot of people have insane parents.” Since the play can be seen from every angle, a different seat could mean a different view on the play — literally and figuratively. Jesse understands this, “Sometimes you’re blocked off and can’t see and its intentional.”  I put the seating arrangement to the test during rehearsal and changed location between scenes, and I have to agree with Jesse’s assessment. Sitting behind the chairs lets you see one couple’s reactions in detail, and hear the others’ voices. Sitting behind the couch, you see the opposite. The difference certainly doesn’t fundamentally change the play, but it definitely plays with your perception of  the characters. “Hopefully people will come a few different nights, and look at it from new places,” Jesse explains.  These two dueling couples will be played by Olivia Powell ’14, Andrew Baim ’13 (you may recognize these two from Ordinary People), Skyler Schain ’13 and Angela Carbone ’15. It will be the first play most of these actors are taking part in at Cornell. Although only two of the actors knew each other before the show, they all certainly know each other well now. “Doing this play gives purpose to my existence. It gives some more meaning to my life,” Skyler ’13 says. Watching the cast interact both on and off set, it was hard to believe that they had only come together for a couple of weeks. The chemistry the actors felt with each other off stage didn’t dissipate when they took the stage. When I stepped into the theater before rehearsal Jesse, Claire and Olivia were chatting in the “living room.” They told stories from their weeks and shared inside jokes from past rehearsals.  The cast took advantage of the environment by trying out new ideas, taking risks (someone may or may not have been surprised when their butt got pinched) and for the most part, everything paid off. “The advantage to not having a professor is creating an open forum. It’s all about learning and being open.” That said, Jesse’s authority was hardly diminished at any point in the rehearsal. “There’s a good amount of respect, but this show is truly a collaboration.” The play was far from complete when I popped into rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, but now I imagine it is in its final stages of perfection. God of Carnage opens tomorrow, and I know I will be in attendance (angle still undecided). Come one night, come many. I’ll see you there. God of Carnage will play at the Schwartz Center from October 25 to October 27. Tickets may be purchased at schwartztickets.universitytickets.com.

Original Author: Arielle Cruz