There is something about watching people just like us begin to unravel and shrink into desperation and desolation that demands our attention.
Whether itâ€™s watching Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in "Kramer vs Kramer," Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" or even "King Lear" where the man descends into an unrivaled madness.
Thatâ€™s the attraction of "God of Carnage," the Yasmina Reza play serving as the first production of the new Umbrella Group. It opened Thursday night at In Tandem Theatre's 10th Street space and looked like anything but a brand new ensemble of actors.
Under the direction of veteran Bo Johnson, the cast of Libby Amato, Jason Will, Anna Figlesthaler and Matt Wickey melt down before our very eyes, each of them both sympathetic and horrid at the same time.
The married couple Amato and Will have gone to the home of Figlesthaler and Wickey to discuss the playground attack by their son on the son of Figlesthaler and Wickey that resulted in a bruised lip and two lost teeth.
The meeting begins like four civil people have a bit of a discussion. But it doesnâ€™t take long for the first battle lines to be drawn. The first battle is sparked by parental protection, with each couple trying their best to keep their children from being dragged through the mud of accusation, although Will manages to call his son a "savage" between taking cell phone calls to handle a crisis at work.
As the discussion grows in intensity, Amato asks, "How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves." The answer in this play is every single one of them.
From the prim and proper opening moments to the increasingly savage meltdown, alliances shift and swing until everybody gets a chance to be angry and frustrated with everyone else in the play.
Part of this is very funny as each character is moved to ever more extreme behavior and language. But underneath the humor is the "God, I hope this never happens to me" river running through your blood.
These characters are finely drawn in the play, and these actors are well up to the task of finding every single angle of their lives.
Amato â€“ stuck in a marriage to a fast track, big time lawyer â€“ is resentful of both the attacks on her son and the seeming indifference of her husband. She melts into an rum infused puddle, throwing up onstage (with a wonderful special effect) and finding cause to spread her marital disgust over everyone else. A veteran of Milwaukee stages, Amato has a warm ability to be vulnerable, vicious and funny at the same time. Her attack on Wickey as a "murderer" for putting the family hamster on the street is priceless.
Figlesthaler is the one who travels the furthest of the four. She starts out as the artist of the group, reasoned and rational and hoping to find common ground. She ends up physically attacking her husband and sitting with Amato on a couch, joined both physically and in cause. Figlesthaler marvelously captures the passions and ultimate exasperations of Veronica.
Wickey is the everyman in the play, a normal job, a normal guy, trying to get by and both in awe and protective of his wife. He holds his temper longest but when he finally explodes it is frightening to behold. "Children," he shrieks, "consume our lives and then destroy them." Itâ€™s funny, but at the same time you wonder to yourself, "How could he say that?"
Will is the lawyer, wedded to his cellphone and handling the current business crisis. Each time the phone rings, he clutches it as if itâ€™s his lifeline, and Amato grows ever increasingly bitter about how he loves the phone more than her.
Will also tries to show that whatâ€™s going on here is nothing compared to his important life. And he uses humor to get his point across. When Figlesthaler begins to cry, he steps in front of her, "When a woman cries, a man is immediately moved to the worst excesses."
Will is a very entertaining actor, with the kind of good guy face and manner that would make you love him if he wasnâ€™t such a rat. I would love to see Will in "Glengarry Glen Ross."
Johnson is a terrific actor, and he brings an actor's sensibility to his directorial tasks. He gives these people space to be funny, to be sad and to be miserable. His wisdom will help this company flourish.
This production and this company was born out of a desire on the part of the four actors to stage "God of Carnage," and their performance is an exciting one. I truly believe you can never have enough theater, and the Umbrella Group will be a great addition.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published June 27, 2016
"The Skin of Our Teeth" is about as unusual as it gets, and the production at Off The Wall has just about everything that I don't like in a theatrical production. The curious thing is that I loved all of it and found myself riveted at the end.
Published June 24, 2016
"Thank You, Next," with music by Tim Rebers and lyrics by Alicia Berneche, opens as Milwaukee Opera Theatre and artistic director Jill Anna Ponasik continue to redefine what opera means, staging provocative and very relatable productions.
Published June 23, 2016
It may not be possible to be any more revolted by the Republican Party than I am right now. This week Senate Republicans, including our Sen. Ron Johnson, turned down a couple of serious attempts to enact minor laws designed to help control gun violence.
Published June 21, 2016
The Milwaukee Ballet is celebrating this summer after seeing a 15 percent boost in attendance and record revenue of $2.3 million, proving that high-quality work will capture attention - and, perhaps most importantly, dollars - in Milwaukee.
Published June 20, 2016
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" receives a spectacular, blistering treatment at American Players Theater in Spring Green. There are many who claim this is the greatest of all American plays and, after seeing this production, it'd be hard to argue.
Published June 17, 2016
His name is "Tank," and he drives a big semi - one of 30 that will be in Milwaukee for Kenny Chesney's show at Miller Park Saturday night. He took my Uber ride and provided a little look into what it takes to keep a show like this one the road.
Published June 14, 2016
This may come across as a little heartless and dismissive but it's time to put a stop to the kind of hopeless junk that rose up after the horror of the massacre in Orlando. The only way to win the battle for gun control is with sophisticated politics.
Published June 14, 2016
Summer in Wisconsin offers dozens of quick trips that are filled with experiences new and memorable, and one of the best possible trips revolves around the lauded American Players Theater up in Spring Green.
Published June 13, 2016
A summerly discontent is what I was left with after seeing "The African Company Presents Richard III," the Carlyle Brown play about the first black theater company formed six years before New York abolished slavery.
Published June 11, 2016
Loss and the painful path to fill empty spaces left behind are at the heart of a lovely and warm-hearted production of "The Secret Garden" being staged at Soulstice Theatre under the direction of Artistic Director Jillian Smith.