Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
April 22, 2011
In a tightly constructed comedy, one seminal event – on a grand or intimate scale – can make a stage-full of characters go a little crazy.
In Tom Dudzick’s “King o’ the Moon,” it’s the 1969 lunar landing. In Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” it’s a schoolyard brawl between two 11 year olds.
In both plays, the seams and strains of making a larger statement show. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, a delightfully excellent cast makes you root for the slightly neurotic, staunchly Catholic Pazinski family of Buffalo , New York . And the payoff is something of a happy ending for all.
But the repeated recordings from the Apollo 11 astronauts become tiresome. (If you remember the real-time TV broadcasts of that world-changing night, you might honestly recall how numbingly boring it all was – until the moment of the “giant leap for mankind”). In Dudzick’s play, those recordings intrude on and interrupt the story, and don’t provide much bang for the family-saga buck.
This is the second installment of Dudzick’s semi-autobiographical trilogy, following on the heels of the funny and much-loved first part, “Over the Tavern,” which played at North Coast Rep in 2009. The current seven-member cast is impeccable, anchored by the redoubtable Kandis Chappell, under the direction of Matt Thompson. Each character is created with affection, humor and veracity. The backyard set is grittily realistic, too. Despite its lofty aims, the play is less about crises of faith, conflict over the Vietnam War, or the possibility for change and hope, than it is about the power of family. With compelling and endearing characters, convincingly played, that really should be enough.
At the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. , a megawatt ensemble forces our loyalties and sympathies to shift repeatedly in “God of Carnage,” and we come to pretty much loathe all four characters by the somewhat unresolved conclusion. Reza’s philosophical disquisitions, as in her more famous play, “Art,” tend to be overwrought. Here, her bottom line is this: our thin veneer of civility breaks down with minimal provocation, and we become the knuckle-scraping Neanderthals we’re descended from. The treatise is rammed down our throats in various ways; we really don’t require projectile vomiting to underscore our potential for beastly behavior.
Folks may be flocking to the Ahmanson more for the high-profile, highly acclaimed original Broadway cast than for the play’s sometimes clunky, often dark but frequently funny contemplation of morality, marriage and parenthood. You won’t be disappointed, though; Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden are terrific – separately and together. Their characters seem civilized, self-possessed and in control, until they unravel, one by one, in vehement, even violent ways. There’s no clear-cut resolution for these nasty, miserable couples. But oh, what fun to see bona fide stars spar, dazzle and shine!
“King o’ the Moon” runs through May 8, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
“God of Carnage” continues through May 29 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles .
©2011 PAT LAUNER