Director Jennifer Rockwood brings ‘God of Carnage’ to TSAWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Director Jennifer Rockwood can’t wait to share the joy she feels toward her chosen art form. For nearly three decades she has taught theater at the University of Toledo, guiding generations of young actors. She’s directed productions at the university and for community theater, done some films, written her own plays, and more. Locally, there are not many people involved with live theater who have been more prolific and influential than her.
Few who have kept their plate as full as Rockwood would seek even more challenges. But she is not one of the few.
“So I got together with a group about a year ago this time. We put together a sort of collective called Catalyst Theater,” Rockwood said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “And we’ve been doing various shows and using people that work in all the different community theaters. We’re not exclusive — we’re inclusive.”
The latest from Catalyst — and director Rockwood — is a production of the Yasmina Reza play “God of Carnage,” premiering April 18 in the Attic Theater at the Toledo School for the Arts.
“I decided to do this show and I’m somewhat involved with the Toledo School for the Arts. So I thought it would be fun to do it as a fundraiser. And since not a lot of people know they have a theater there, a small theater, I’m doing it as a fundraiser for the Toledo School for the Arts in their Attic Theater space, which is a more intimate, smaller theater space. It only seats 200. It should be fun,” she said.
“God of Carnage” has been wildly popular since it debuted in 2006. “Two sets of parents come together to discuss some violence that’s happened between their children on the playground, very civilized. And, of course, it ends up not being so civilized. And it’s very funny,” Rockwood said. “It’s intellectual, and it’s funny.”
After a stellar run in its native France, English translations of “God of Carnage” have proven to be equally well-received in the U.K. and U.S., with actors such as Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini filling the roles. There has even been a big screen adaptation (“Carnage”) directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz.
“I’ve tried to get the royalties for this play for a couple years, and it was very tough because they were very careful about where, regionally, they wanted it to happen, so it didn’t happen all the time in the same places,” Rockwood said.
What helps make the play so effective, she added, is that audience members can identify with its events — even if they cringe while they do so. “When people start to become their children — or want their children to become them — then they get obnoxious. And that’s what so funny, is that you can kind of see yourself.
Helping to establish a unique atmosphere for the show is its performance space. An intimate setting like the Attic Theater allows for the audience to feel more immediately invested in the play’s events, Rockwood said.
“I personally like being up close with actors — I like being able to see your eyes, I like being able to see when they blink. It’s different than being in Stratford at the Shakespeare Festival, at the Globe Theater,” she said. “I think that when you’re up close and personal, it’s much more visceral. You can sort of hear and see the actors breathing up close. And ultimately, it allows you to suspend your disbelief more easily.”
It’s been a very fast-paced process for Rockwood and her cast as they bring “God of Carnage” together. Fortunately, all the members of her cast — John Meadows, Jennifer Nagy Lake, Kate Abu-Absi and Brad Smith, head of the Board of Directors for the Toledo Rep — have tons of experience in Toledo theater.
“We’re working in a very short rehearsal period, but I like to work like that. We always joke about how I like to work fast and dirty, or quick and dirty. I’ve worked with two of the actresses a lot. And one of the actors, John Meadows — and Kate and Jennifer — were students at UT.
“I’ve known them for a long time and I’ve worked with them in lots of different shows, so they kind of know my directing style.”
And as opening night closes in for Rockwood and her cast, the director is once again feeling that joy of anticipation. The time to share this great show — and earn money for a good program — is close at hand.
“They are gelling,” Rockwood said of her cast. “They are fun. The one thing that you know — when the actors are having fun in rehearsal, when you’re having fun and you’re enjoying each other and you’re almost breaking each other up — you know you can’t wait to get to an audience. And you hope they’re having as much fun as you are onstage.”
Performances of “God of Carnage” will take place at 7:30 p.m. April 18-20 and at 2:30 p.m. April 21 at the Toledo School for the Arts Attic Theater. Tickets will be $15. For more information, call (419) 246-8732, ext. 217.