God of Carnage

Bozeman Daily CHRONICLE

The art of being impolite: Actors Theatre of Montana and Equinox collaborate on dark comedy

   
  
 
  
    
  
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   The cast of "God of Carnage" rehearse a scene recently at the Equinox Theatre.

The cast of "God of Carnage" rehearse a scene recently at the Equinox Theatre.

By LUANN ROD, Chronicle Staff Writer Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012 12:15 am

Take four of Bozeman’s most recognizable actors. Put them on a stage at the Equinox Theatre with a Tony Award-winning script. Add an audience. Close the door. What do you have?

Actors Theatre of Montana presents its newest work, “God of Carnage,” in collaboration with Equinox Theatre starting Friday.

Bringing together veteran actors Cara Wilder, Kent Davis, Will Dickerson and Erin Roberg, director DeeDee Van Zyl has found her dream team.

“I’ve never worked with a cast with this level of experience and brilliance,” Van Zyl said. “That’s pretty exciting. Intimidating sometimes, as well, but very exciting.”

“We’ve got to have on stage – between the four of us – 80-plus years of experience,” said Davis. “It’s really thrilling, at least for me. It’s really, really great to be on stage with three other people that can really, really play.”

And play they do in Yasmina Reza’s dark comedy. First produced in France before coming to American shores, the play hits a global nerve with its universal view of relationships gone wrong.

“It’s a comedy of manners without manners,” said Van Zyl.

Two couples come together at the apartment of one of the couples, in a very civil manner, to discuss a playground incident between their two sons. As conversation unfolds and tensions rise, civility takes a hike and couples implode.

It’s “this perfect storm of everybody walked into a room after having a really bad day,” said Davis.

“A study of tension between civilized surface and savage instinct, this play is itself a satisfyingly primitive entertainment with an intellectual veneer,” wrote the New York Times in a review of the 2009 Tony Award-winning production starring James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and Jeff Daniels.

“They are in one room and that’s where it has its power. They can’t leave. They can’t get out,” said Van Zyl.

Performed in the small Equinox Theatre, seating about 85, the set has a unique design.

“It’s like you’re walking into the apartment and sitting down and watch what happens,” said Roberg.

“That’s what I really love about this space,” said Dickerson, referring to the stage with its modern furnishings, beamed ceiling and loft-looking design. “It feels like the audience is trapped in the room with us and they can’t get out.”

Cue the diabolical laughter.

The play is “every kind of funny you could ever imagine,” said Van Zyl. And also some pain, some discomfort of getting really close to the conversation.

“You could overhear this conversation, or parts of it in the Safeway or the Co-op or Triple Tree or the lift at Big Sky,” said Davis. “You wouldn’t want to overhear the conversation, but you could.”

That can be the beauty of the Equinox stage for both the cast and audience.

“As an actor,” said Dickerson, “there’s certainly something fantastic about playing to a really large house in an old, traditional theater, like the Ellen.” But in a smaller venue, “it’s so fantastic to be able to strip down the artifice, you can really be so intimate, especially with your fellow actors. It can feel very dangerous and real, especially in this play. I always say dangerous is funnier.”

“It’s (the play is) pretty superb in this small of a theater,” said Van Zyl. “We just have to pack a million people in here to see it.”

Ah, the rub.

Actors Theatre of Montana has been performing in other people’s theaters since its founding by Wilder and Van Zyl in 2008. This will be the company’s fourth production done in collaboration with others, including “Streetcar Named Desire” performed at the Ellen Theatre.

Wilder describes ATM as “a loosely organized group of actors without a home” that would like a home.

And Equinox, in its space at 2304 N. Seventh Ave., across from Murdoch’s, is entering its 17th year and would also like to move into a space with more capacity.

“Equinox is certainly viable, and that’s to Erin’s credit,” said Wilder. “I think there’s something to be said for maintaining a company for that long. It’s time to grow. They often turn people away for performances and it would be nice to have something more centrally located. “I think there’s potential for really great theater, that happens all the time in Bozeman, it’s happening at the Equinox.”

People still have a hard time finding Equinox, joked Roberg, unless you’re on the way to Murdoch’s or the airport.

But that’s not stopping the theater from continuing to produce plays.
Coming up next is Equinox’s now annual production of “Rocky Horror Show.”

“We’re trying to see ourselves as a full-year theater. We used to take the summer off,” said Roberg. The group will present another seven-week series of the original “Radio Shows” which started last summer.

As for ATM, “We have to match our show to our space. We will be submitting proposals this spring,” said Van Zyl.

“There are 18 to 20 solid, professional, semi-professional actors in this area we’d like to work with,” said Wilder. “We are tossing around ideas for next year. But it’s always a space issue, where we go, who will have us.”

LuAnn Rod is at getout@dailychronicle.com or 582-2632.

“God of Carnage” plays at the Equinox Theatre, 2304 N. Seventh Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, March 23-April 7. Showtime is 8 p.m. There is an opening night wine and dessert reception starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $12 and $10 for students, are available at 587-0737, ext. 1 or at equinoxtheatre.com.