Balancing chaosBy Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In the play “God of Carnage,” opening on July 13—a Friday, how strangely appropriate—at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of RCBC Plaza in Makati, a reference to Francis Bacon’s often grotesque and macabre works of art is made.
I don’t think this is coincidental, considering the absolute chaos this Yasmina Reza comedy (translated by Christopher Hampton) descends into, and the deft balancing act that everyone involved—actors and production staff alike, particularly the stage crew—need to pull off night after night.
It was first performed in France (Reza is French) in 2006, then headed into the West End in 2008, and on Broadway in 2009. It has won critical acclaim, awards (including the Olivier and the Tony for best play), and the hearts of many audience members fortunate enough to have seen it.
I caught it in New York with its final cast (Jeff Daniels, Dylan Baker, Janet McTeer and Lucy Liu), and it was worth the price of admission to see these four actors lay waste to that initially pristine and well-ordered set.
We’ve been rehearsing for the last two weeks, and each new day has brought us only closer to complete disintegration. And that is a good thing.
The plot seems simple enough: Two sets of married couples meet in one couple’s living room in what seems to be a civil discussion about their sons’ playground altercation.
However, what starts out as an admirable effort to patch things up devolves into horrendous shouting matches, three-against-one match-ups, and one-on-one combat. All in less than 90 minutes.
A friend of mine, upon my telling him that I was starting work on “God of Carnage,” said that it would only work well if the actors in it are friends; it would be difficult if you hated the people you are working with. Fortunately, Bobby Garcia assembled a cast of actors that all like and respect each other very much.
I had worked with everyone else before, with the exception of Art Acuña, to whom I was only briefly professionally exposed while hiding in my brother’s studio during a recording session of “The Kitchen Musical.”
Working with Adrian Pang on “They’re Playing Our Song” was just so lovely, so I anticipated this time to be more of the same.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo is not only a professional teammate, but also a good friend (and a ninang to my daughter Nicole).
Bobby and I have worked and played together for over 10 years, starting with “Proof.” He’s only grown in leaps and bounds as a director and a friend. This is our seventh play together.
No easy rehearsal
Rehearsing a play like “God of Carnage” wasn’t exactly easy to plot out. The moment the lights go on, the action begins and never stops. There are no blackouts, no costume changes. Everything happens in real time.
So, there weren’t “scenes” in the traditional sense of the word. We had to go by page number or acting beat, with Bobby having plotted out our rehearsal sequence beforehand. But then it would also depend on how fast or slow we were progressing.
The first 12 to 15 pages were probably the most difficult to learn and set up properly. Menchu, herself an acclaimed director, said that “exposition is always the most difficult.” She wasn’t kidding. It was hard to learn, to get the words in my head; it was arduous to plot where conversations were heading, in the way that unplanned and awkward small talk can’t always be predicted.
However, once the first fight was staged, the other battles were a piece of cake, each one calibrated just right to nicely proceed into the next. Setting up each fight was a challenge though, because at the end of each rehearsal, we didn’t always know how much further we still had left to go.
We had to run the show almost every day from the beginning, to wherever we had left off from the day before, in order to figure this out. (On a side note: Art Acuña, recent Urian Award winner for best supporting actor for “Niño,” was the only one of us to be completely off book from day one. Given the number of monologues and cell phone calls he has on the script, that is incredibly impressive.)
The play features not just verbal lashings, but physical ones, too. This is, after all, a modern-day farce. This means that our poor, valiant stage crew has had to assemble some interesting pieces of property for our production, as well as reassemble broken things, and clean up many messes.
Our thanks to our stage crew, Ace and Luis, for gamely doing it all. Your work is not yet done. And thanks also to Bernice Aspillaga-Cañete for stage-managing everything without losing composure, and to Liza Camus, our production manager, for being the force of nature you are, from arranging travel to getting us fitted for Twinkle Zamora’s costumes, and for just taking care of us.
As I write this, we’ve had only our first of many more run-throughs—each one will be informative and stamina-building.
We all hope you enjoy the ride. Let the games begin.
“God of Carnage” runs from July 13 to 22. For tickets, contact Atlantis productions at 892-7078 or 840-1187, or Ticketworld at 891-9999.
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