Next week, ProArts Playhouse presents Maui's debut of Yasmina Reza's multi-award winning "God of Carnage" in Kihei.
Reza is a literary anomaly of sorts. The Persian-Hungarian-French actress, author, political commentator and playwright is arguably the most successful playwright of the 21st century thus far. Her characters are beloved by actors, her minimalist set and technical needs are adored by producers, designers and crews, and her peers have lauded her with every theater award there is.
The problem is many a dramatic critic considers her to be a fluke and one-dimensional. Though a loose analogy, her negative press is similar to that of films such as "We're the Millers," "Superbad" and "The Hangover." Some of the more scathing commentary, from London to L.A., have suggested "a carnival of bad behavior," "a piece of shallow arrogance," "gimmickry over substance," "dysfunction for dysfunction's sake," and "I detest the pathetic complicity between this author and her fans."
Kisha Milling (from left), Jennifer Rose, Don Carlson and Will Makozak star in “God of Carnage.”
JACK GRACE photo
Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play will make its Maui debut April 25 at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Productions continue Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 11.
For tickets or more information, call ProArts at 463-6550.
JACK GRACE photo
Bad press aside, Reza's two biggest hits ("Art" and "Carnage") have grossed more than $400 million and have been produced and translated in more than 30 countries and languages.
Reza's counterpoint to her detractors: "There is no point in writing theatre if it's not accessible." Some journalists have conveyed that her characters merely crackle on the surface, to which Reza has suggested on many occasions that 21st century audiences do not want an extra half hour of exposition dialogue to learn why characters behave the way they do.
Perhaps the reason critics pan her style is because Reza lampoons bourgeois, liberal, intellectual, white males, eventually exposing them as hypocritical, screaming, man-child buffoons at some point in her plays.
Some of the actors who have lined up to appear in a Reza script include Albert Finney, Alan Alda, Victor Garber, Alfred Molina, Judd Hirsch, George Wendt, Buck Henry, George Segal, Wayne Knight, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet.
I interviewed local cast member Don Carlson and asked him to share his thoughts on the play. "It's absurdist comedy, black comedy, or comedy-drama, however you prefer to categorize it - a balance between ridiculous and real. I suppose one-dimensional could be a legitimate critique as an actor. I've had to dig for a back story, but he's removed (Carlson's character, Alan), emotionally detached."
I asked why so many illustrious actors love these roles. "I was attracted to her (Reza's) characters immediately. They are closer to how actors are in real life. They're dramatic, and the dark humor is the kind of ammo you can dig into as an actor."
Carlson was bit by the acting bug while living in Australia; he later trained at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco before pursuing his master's degree at Carnegie-Melon in Pittsburgh. As part of a joint program with the Moscow Art Theater, he continued his training in Russia, where he walked and performed on the very stage where Chekov and Stanislavsky created the acting style now referred to as "method." Prior to moving to Maui, Carlson worked in New York City from 1995 through 2003, where he appeared in "All My Children" and as Tybalt in the Washington, D.C., Kennedy Center production of "Romeo and Juliet."
Carlson was drawn to the Kihei production by the experienced cast, which includes Kisha Milling, Jennifer Rose and William Makozak.
The 2009 Tony Award-winning adult comedy-drama centers on a playground altercation between two boys, which brings two sets of parents together for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the evening evolves, and the booze flows, tensions emerge, the kid-gloves come off, and everyone becomes thoroughly annoyed with Alan's endless cell phone calls. The couples begin to blame one another for the fight between their sons, leaving them with more than just their liberal principles in tatters.
So will this edgy, highly-adult, black comedy fly on Maui? "I'm not sure if everyone will necessarily relate to these characters," said Carlson. "But parents can relate and anyone who has ever lived in a big city will certainly recognize them."
* "God of Carnage" by Reza and directed by Jonathan Lehman, takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, April 25 through May 11, at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $22, with kamaaina discounts available for Hawaii residents. "God of Carnage" contains strong adult language. For tickets or more information, call 463-6550.
* Comedienne Anjelah Johnson is coming to Maui. Johnson became an Internet sensation with her viral video, "Nail Salon," and was featured on MadTV, along with being cast in "Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel." Performance is 7:30 p.m. Friday in Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. General admission tickets are $33.50 (plus applicable fees). Visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
* Don't miss the final performances of "James and the Giant Peach," based on the book by Roald Dahl, dramatized by Richard R. George, with original music by David Delaney, directed by Alexis Dascoulias and starring an all-youth cast. The Maui OnStage production begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. General admission tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children. Call 242-6969 or purchase reserved seats online at www.mauionstage.com.
* Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents its 25th annual "Dance Showcase 2014," with two weekends of performance under the direction of David Ward. Celebrate 50 years of Seabury and 25 years of its dance program, featuring all levels of dance and ballet classes. The 25-year retrospective will feature choreography by Ward, Andre Morissette, Vanessa Cerrito and guest artists Kumu Kahula Maolo and Julane Stites. Performances are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, April 25 through May 4, in the A'ali'ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on campus in Makawao. Cost is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. Call 573-1257 or visit www.seaburyhall.org.
* Maui Choral Arts presents "A Broadway Century." Join Artistic Director Gary Shin-Leavitt and a chorus of 75 singers, accompanied by Lotus Dancer and Beth Fobbe-Wills, as they engage and enthrall you with the music of more than 50 of the most popular Broadway melodies from such hits as "Chicago," "Les Miserables" and "Wicked." Performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26 and 27, in McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets range from $15 to $30. Call 242-7469 or order at www.mauiarts.org.
* Maui OnStage is holding auditions for "Legally Blonde: The Musical," directed by Justin House, choreographed by Erin Kowalick and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome. The role of Elle Woods has been cast. Roles are open for men and women from ages 16 through adult of all types and ethnicities. Prepare a song no more than two minutes and provide sheet music in your key, or karaoke track, on CD or MP3. An accompanist will be provided. Dance call and callbacks will be held the following week. Auditions will take place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Historic Iao Theater. Appointments are required. To reserve, call 244-8680, Ext. 23; for more information, visit www.mauionstage.com.