Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pass the yellow pages

"I'd pay to watch those guys read the phone book."

That's our code for seeing really great performers in a so-so production, and I found myself thinking of looking up a few numbers after seeing Seattle Rep's October production of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage. Director Wilson Milam landed a super cast for this show—Hans Altwies, Denis Arndt, Bhama Roget, and Amy Thone—but in the end it didn't add up to much.

L-R: Hans Altwies, Denis Arndt, and Bhama Roget in Seattle
Rep's production of God of Carnage. Photo: Chris Bennion.
Arndt and Roget's kid had whacked Altwies and Thone's kid in the face with a stick and knocked out some teeth. The play is the parents' discussion of what they're going to do about this playground altercation. You just know it's not going to go well. They're all pretty much irredeemable, and the booze doesn't help. But they all have their venomous strengths. Roget proves great at theatrical projectile vomiting, and Altwies proved his comic chops cleaning it up. Arndt is an attorney for a drug company, and his cell phone buzzes constantly. The relationships head straight down the drain.

Still during it all I couldn't help thinking about Arndt in a much better play on the same subject, when he teamed up with Elizabeth Huddle under the direction of Warner Shook for a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Intiman in 1994. Sixteen years later the spark and fire of that great show is vivid in my memory. By comparison, God of Carnage was a soggy phone book left out in the rain.

I'm not sure where to lay blame. Reza is all the rage these days. Was it her play? Christopher Hampton's translation? Milam's direction? (He really nailed Glengarry Glen Ross earlier this year, and I notice our Weisenheimer review has a phone book reference in it!)

I love these actors, so let's go get them some better material.

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