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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Bob Ahlersmeyer, left, Ken Low and Ennis Brown Jr. star in Civic Theatre’s production of “A Few Good Men.”

New season onstage

‘God of Carnage,’ ‘Few Good Men’ are first to debut

Courtesy photo
From left: Jay Duffer, Nancy Kartholl, Melissa Duffer and Thom Hofrichter star in “God of Carnage.”

The 2012-13 Fort Wayne theater season gets under way this weekend with two towering productions, one a hot property and one a freshly minted classic.

Here’s a preview.

‘God of Carnage’

“God of Carnage” sounds like the title of a video game – a video game crammed with swords, incantations and mayhem.

The play by that name that opens at First Presbyterian Theater today may not be a video game and it may not feature any scenes of bloody violence. But there are some underlying similarities, according to guest director David Schuler.

“The swords are real,” he says. “Some are verbal. Some are physical. You have to experience it. You just sort of have to experience it.”

Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” is about two sets of parents who meet to settle a dispute between their two children.

These negotiations degenerate into anarchy over the course of the play.

“Children model the behavior of their parents,” Schuler says. “So it’s easy to understand why these two children got into a fight.”

Schuler calls it “a comedy of manner without the manners.”

The parents’ “masks are up” at the start, Schuler says, but “little by little” they start to fall away.

Each of the four characters has a moment when he or she concludes that there is just too much effort involved in pretending you don’t believe something for the sake of maintaining decorum, he says.

Schuler says the title refers to the deity that many of us worship, whether we know it or not – a deity that justifies “ripping anything apart” to get what we want.

Thom Hofrichter, First Presbyterian Theater executive director, handed the reins to college buddy Schuler so that he could play one of the husbands in the show.

Schuler currently teaches in the theater department at the University of Wisconsin Platteville.

Hofrichter says he’s seen a couple of earlier productions of the show that weren’t entirely successful because audiences were able to distance themselves from the characters and reduce them to “a bunch of people acting badly.”

“They didn’t seem like me,” he says, referring to the parents in the play.

It is not enough for theatergoers to laugh at the characters or mentally admonish them, Hofrichter says. They have to identify with them, he says.

“It is easy to see ‘God of Carnage’ behavior in everybody else,” Schuler says. “It is harder to see it in ourselves.”

Even though the play is funny, Schuler says, the playwright has said she “believes her plays are tragedies not comedies.”

“God of Carnage” is “rated R” for strong language, Schuler says.

It can be seen at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, Sept. 14, 15 and 22; 2 p.m. Sept. 16; and 10:30 p.m. Sept. 21.

Tickets, from $18 to $24, are available by calling 422-6329.

First Presbyterian Theater is at 300 W. Wayne St.

‘A Few Good Men’

When Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” debuted on Broadway in 1989, the world did not yet know the writer.

Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “The Newsroom” were still years in the future.

Any new production of “A Few Good Men” benefits from Sorkin’s renown but also must contend with people’s sturdy memories of the popular 1992 film adaptation that starred Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.

“A Few Good Men,” a military courtroom drama about the maturation of an immature Navy lawyer and some thorny truths that are revealed along the way, opens Saturday at the Civic Theatre.

The show’s director, Ranae Butler, says she urged that cast to avoid viewing the film again prior to the start of rehearsals. But the influence of the film is so strong, Butler says, that even Sorkin went back and rewrote the play so that it hewed closer to his screenplay.

Nicholson’s delivery, in the role of Col. Nathan R. Jessup, of a climactic courtroom diatribe has entered the canon of most memorable American movie scenes.

Butler says she and Ken Low, who plays Jessup in the Civic Theatre production, worked hard to “craft a Jessup that is true to the script but that is not so different (from Nicholson’s portrayal) that people are spending all their time out there going, ‘Dang.’ ”

Working with Low and Bob Ahlersmeyer, who plays untested Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee, has been a treat, she says.

“The thing that is so rewarding about an actor like Bob is that we make great progress every night,” she says. “He incorporates changes quickly.”

Kaffee was played by Cruise in the film, and Butler says living up to Cruise’s enormous star quality is no easier than living up to Nicholson’s outsized acting, Butler says.

“All you have to do is show up to the party when you look like (Cruise),” Butler says, laughing.

Butler says people will always be attracted to courtroom dramas because they like to see “justice done.” But “A Few Good Men” is unique in that it delivers a satisfying resolution along with some thought-provoking ambiguities.

After watching a “typical Tuesday night drama,” she says, viewers go to bed feeling that everything’s been wrapped up and all is “right with the world” – that the “the bad guys have all been put away.”

But in “A Few Good Men,” Butler says “it’s really not that cut-and-dried.”

Butler says she hopes viewers leave the theater wrestling with some of the same issues Kaffee wrestles with in the play; that they walk away asking themselves such questions as “ ‘What does it mean to defend somebody?’ ‘What does it mean for our military to defend us?’ ”

“I want them to look at that closely,” Butler says.

“A Few Good Men” is at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 and 15; 2 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 16.

Tickets, from $16 to $24, are available by calling 424-5220.

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents shows in the Arts United Center at 303 E. Main St.