Carnage of the comedic and holy sorts
Carnage was a theme of two excellent productions last weekend.
It is much-talked-about, but not actually present, in the Yasmina Reza comedy of manners (without the manners) God of Carnage, directed by Brian Heap for the University Players. Ironically, however, carnage was very much present in the more innocuously named King David, a musical dram directed by Gregory Thames (assisted by Alwin Bully) for Father Ho Lung and Friends.
While King David has ended its run at the National Arena, you have until Sunday to see God of Carnage at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona.
It is a small production, with only four performers - Deanne Allgrove (as Veronica Novak), Jean-Paul Menou (Michael Novak), Alwyn Scott (Alan Raleigh) and Julene Robinson (Annette Raleigh). Pretty much, all they do is sit in the Novak's minimally furnished living room one afternoon and talk.
The action is continuous and in real time, though there is a 15-minute intermission.
King David has a cast of about 60 actors, dancers and singers. They occupied five levels on the huge National Arena stage and the story is spread over many years and locations.
The God of Carnage story is simple. Mr and Mrs Raleigh visit Mr and Mrs Novak to discuss the injury that the Raleighs' son, Benjamin (aged about 10 years), inflicted on the Novaks' son, Henry (also 10). Benjamin hit Henry in the mouth with a stick and the blow resulted in damage to Henry's lip and tooth; nobody died.
Relatively little time is spent on the incident between the boys. It's the characters that the author of the Tony-award winning domestic comedy-drama is really interested in. (Incidentally, Reza also wrote Art, which Heap and the University Players staged in 2008. It received four Actor Boy nominations and a Best Supporting Actor win for Munair Zacca.)
The couples fight one another verbally for the most part, but things do get mildly physical on a couple occasions. By the time the play is over, we know the uptight wives and their laid-back husbands very well, and generally, we know more about the differences between men and women. That means we've learnt more about ourselves. And isn't that why we go to the theatre?
Heap's direction and the acting of all four thespians (sometimes it is impossible to differentiate) are outstanding. The actors inhabit the characters, not only by delivering their lines realistically, but also their portrayal of the personalities and emotions in the silences between lines. You laugh - or gain insight - as much from Reza's words as the actors' expressions and gestures.
As one theatre lover told me, it's the sort of play you want to see again.
The same could be said of King David, a very different type of show. An epic dramatic musical, it tells its tale with extravagance. The sets and costumes are plentiful and colourful, plus there are numerous songs, lots of dancing and running to and fro on the broad, multi-levelled stage.
The main characters are socially exalted figures - kings, queens, princes, prophets and a giant. And the carnage is real, with some of those people being killed in fights and wars.
We know most of the names from Sunday School. King Saul, King David, Bathsheba, Jonathan, Absalom, Solomon and Goliath. But the Sunday School sequence of the incidents in which they are involved is not exactly how playwright Fr Richard Ho Lung tells it In the programme, he explains the artistic licence.
"I had the story of Absalom (David's rebellious son) and Michal's (she is King Saul's daughter, whom David marries) preceding the tale of David, Bathsheba and Uriah. (David arranged the killing of Uriah, his army general, so he could marry Bathsheba, Uriah's wife.) Also, to strengthen the drama, Michal takes her life after she became disillusioned with her son Absalom's rebellion against King David, his seizure of power and his licentiousness. This is contrived on my part as a way to explain Michal's sudden disappearance from the plot narrated in the Bible and to make Act 11 strongly dramatic."
Actually, the entire story is strongly dramatic and it speaks about a shepherd boy becoming the most-loved King of Israel and the many challenges he faced before and during his reign. We see David killing a bear that is attacking his sheep; we see him soothing a depressed King Saul with his playing of the harp; we see Saul turn against him and try to kill him only to repent of his actions and give up his crown to David.
There's larger than life acting by the principals, who include Wynton Williams as David, Leroy Palmer as Saul, Leighton Jones as Jonathan, Chevaughn Clayton as Absalom, Kristen James as Bathsheba and Jacinth Wright as Cassandra, David's mother-in-law. (Some of the roles are played by two or three different performers.)
The powerful songs were written by Fr Ho Lung and Wynton Williams. Wynton's brother, Jon, assisted with the songs' arrangement. Contributing much to the spectacle of the show were technical director and lighting designer Robin Baston, movement director Clayton Gidden and his assistant Paula Shaw, set designer PJ Stewart and the unnamed costume designer.
The 7,000 students who watched King David atv a special morning show for schools, which I also attended, expressed their appreciation very noisily. Fr Ho Lung himself took to the stage to welcome them.