**Reza In Rep 2012**
- Half the proceeds from the two "Pay What You Can" previews of "Art" and "God of Carnage" will benefit local charities.
- Minimum is $1; preview tickets are first-come, first-served. Sales start at 7 p.m., with the doors open at 7:30 p.m.
- The "God of Carnage" preview at 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 16 will benefit The Shelter for Abused Women & Children.
- The "Art" preview at 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 17 will benefit The United Arts Council of Collier County.
- $25 regular preview tickets are available for "God of Carnage" (Thursday, Oct. 18) and "Art" (Friday, Oct. 19).
IF YOU GO
What: "Art" debates the meaning of friendship after a man buys an expensive, all-white canvas
What: "God of Carnage" follows two couples through an evening of conflict, drinking and destruction
When: Plays alternate at 8 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 18. Additional 3 p.m. matinée showings on Sunday, Oct. 21, Oct. 28, Nov. 11 & Nov. 18.
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples
Cost: $40; $25 preview tickets available for Oct. 18 & 19
More: $65 "Marathon Mania" tickets available for Saturday performances on Oct. 27, Nov. 3, Nov. 10 and Nov. 17. See one show at 4 p.m., then another at 8 p.m.
Information: 866-811-4111 or gulfshoreplayhouse.org
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples, FL
NAPLES — Five actors. Two plays. One playwright.
Two directors. Two sets. One stage.
Twenty-seven days. Thirty-two performances.
This is Reza, the Yasmina flavor.
Cody Nickell can boil Gulfshore Playhouse's audacious "Reza in Rep" experiment down to six words.
"Double your pleasure, double your fun."
WHAT'S GOING ON?
Rep, or "repertory," refers to the theatrical practice of alternating works from a specified repertoire. In this, her seventh season, Gulfshore Playhouse's founding artistic director Kristen Coury opted for "Art" and "God of Carnage" from French playwright Yasmina Reza. In an added wrinkle, two of her actors will pull double duty and hop from one play to the other.
"Art," which Coury will direct, examines the crumbling relationship between three friends after one buys an incredibly expensive painting that is just white lines on a white canvas.
Nickell, Gulfshore's new artistic associate, will play one role in "Art" and simultaneously direct "God of Carnage." The latter play looks at Brooklyn yuppies thrashing out a playground dispute between their sons. Brit Whittle and Scott Greer appear as the husbands in "God of Carnage" and act opposite Nickell in "Art." Laura Fay Smith and Brigitte Viellieu-Davis round out the cast of "Carnage."
The two shows alternate nights through mid-November. Saturdays, including the Oct. 20 opening night gala, feature a 4 p.m. performance of one show, followed by an 8 p.m. performance of the other. Both "Art" and "God of Carnage" run 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Reza delves into the messiest parts of human interaction in her plays. Humor devolves to drama which turns on a dime to bitter rage. Audiences may laugh, scream, gasp and howl at any one show, sometimes within the same scene. Gulfshore Playhouse produced another Reza work, "Live (x) 3" in 2007. Florida Repertory Theatre had "God of Carnage" in January, in a production that was praised by Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout.
"Seeing both of these plays is an experience in and of itself," Coury said. "Seeing two plays by the only woman who has won two Tony Awards back to back is a delight, let alone the fact that they are both wonderful plays."
Working in repertory can be challenging, delightful, fun, exhausting and just a teensy bit mad - as Coury, Nickell and the rest of the Gulfshore Playhouse gang is finding out. (Go behind the scenes of "Art" and "God of Carnage" with the new Gulfshore Playhouse blog - The Playhouse Perspective, here: (gulfshoreplayhouse.wordpress.com)
"Things do get a little crazy," Nickell, who has worked in repertory before, admitted. "I don’t think I have ever used a line from one show during the performance of the other, but I have certainly put on the wrong costume for that evening’s performance!"
Still, Nickell says that he loves a good challenge. And directing one show while acting in another is definitely a challenge. He says the switching of the "metaphorical hats" is the most challenging part, but calls the process "exhausting, mentally draining and absolutely thrilling."
"When I am involved in a show, I let myself get swept away, thinking almost only about that show and my part in it, filtering the rest of my life through that context," Nickell explained. "With these projects, I can’t let myself slip too far down the rabbit hole, because I have to split my focus."
He calls the rehearsals "exciting" and praises castmates Whittle and Greer for their talents.
"In ‘Art’ we are having a blast playing with each other, discovering these characters together with Kristen’s help," Nickell enthused. "And then the next day, they are right there for me as I direct them, bringing strong choices to the stage and taking my direction with ease."
Whittle and Greer both point to the sheer amount of verbiage they are trying to cram into their brains - at the same time - as one of the challenges of working in repertory. Typically, actors working in repertory may be performing one show while rehearsing another - not prepping for two shows at at once.
Two at once is twice as consuming
- Scott Greer
"Rehearsing two plays at the same time is a challenge just in terms of the brain space," Greer said. "When you rehearse a play, it kind of takes over your life, everything else takes a back seat. So two at once is twice as consuming."
There's also the task of remembering entrances and exits on and off the stage for two completely different sets to go along with all that dialogue.
"You are working on the same stage for two different shows," Whittle said, "so in the beginning you can find yourself taking a wrong exit or two."
The actors - and both directors - threw themselves into Yasmina Reza's furious, complex world with vigor.
"I see Reza's dialogue crisp, terse and to the point," Coury said. "She's excellent with rhythm and humor and knows exactly what to say to rip your heart out or make you laugh out loud."
Nickell points to larger themes that run through Reza's work.
Seeing both of these plays is an experience in and of itself
- Kristen Coury
"There are tons of delightful little echoes that audiences will find when they come to see both plays," Nickell said. He promptly ticks off a list.
Names and certain words pop up in both plays, he says. Reza also toys with the idea of whether courtesy helps in interpersonal situations and how quickly adults can resort to childish behavior.
Both "Art" and "God of Carnage" feature seemingly urbane, educated adults descending into bitter, recriminating behavior that looks (and sounds) more like a schoolyard brawl than civilized conversation. But through it all, audiences are likely to be holding their sides and crying from laughter.
Nickell also mentions rodents, before backing away from the topic.
"I won't go into that too much," he laughed.
Greer, who plays Michael in "God of Carnage," also declined to elaborate, but offered a one-word hint to describe his favorite moment in that particular play - "hamster."
Greer likens the process of switching back and forth between his two characters as "just like changing clothes."
It is so much fun to watch these characters behaving badly with each other
- Cody Nickell
Thus, in changing between the two suits, insights emerge.
"'Art' has some profound observations about friendship and human nature," Greer said. "[My character] says some very candid things about what [we] expect from our friends."
Greer's character in "Art," Yvan, is most critical of a friend's decision to buy an expensive painting that's nothing but an enormous snowy canvas with equally white stripes, describing it as "some piece of white ****" within the first few pages of the play.
This battle - over the nature of art, friendship and loyalty - ultimately consumes the men.
Whittle, who plays Serge, the Frenchman who splashes out an obscene sum of money on the all-white painting, describes the character as "quick witted and cerebral." Yet, he believes that Serge wants "affirmation" from his friends for his art choices. Thus, Serge's world comes apart when his friends split over the painting.
"It’s hard to achieve things for yourself without sacrificing … the relationships you have in your life. Time is a type of currency," Whittle said. "But even when you do give your time to someone, conflict is inevitable because everyone is different. So you have to make the conscious decision to accept the differences or else you only antagonize the conflicts."
CHARACTERS BEHAVING BADLY
Reza visits and re-visits the theme of adults acting like children again and again in her plays.
The action in "God of Carnage" builds like a pressure cooker, or else a balloon being inflated bigger, fatter, farther until the suspense becomes overpowering. On the surface, Michael, Veronica, Alan and Annette are "nice" people. Underneath the veneer of business suits, expensive flowers from the market on the corner and homemade clafouti, they're all savages. Reza captures the dichotomies and disingenuous pretensions of her bratty beings with an arch style.
In directing "God of Carnage," Nickell believes that audiences enjoy watching the couples sink into feral madness. He compares directing the show to creating a world where the crowd sits and watches four people trying to comport themselves normally - all the while pressing each other's emotional buttons until decorum erodes and chaos erupts (sometimes quite literally).
"It is so much fun to watch these characters behaving badly with each other," Nickell explains. "What we are finding in rehearsal is that the longer we can wait before we go to that extreme place, the longer we can draw out the tension of what we can all [as the audience] see coming, the better and funnier it gets!"
Yet, even as her plays see friendships crumble and manners tossed aside, Reza offers a sobering, thoughtful message. The actors - if not her characters - seem to have soaked that in.
"[The message?] Even when relationships are hard, they are worth the struggle and the conflict that comes along when we have disagreements," Whittle details. "And that winning an argument is never worth either yours or another person's dignity. That should be obvious, but it never is in real life."