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Writer Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning play "God of Carnage" made audiences squirm on Broadway and at Boston’s Huntington Theater this past season.
In director Roman Polanski’s film adaptation, actors Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Jodi Foster sunk their teeth into the juicy main roles as parents attempting to calmly discuss a fight their two young sons had in a playground. But that conversation turns ugly over the course of the play as the adults regress into bickering, whiny, out-of-control children. Now that psycho-dynamic is being twisted even further by a group of Boston-area teens.
At a final rehearsal in the performing arts center at Boston College High School, Jack Serio, who is directing the play, commanded the attention of his cast and crew like a theater veteran — but he's only 16 years old.
"We’re starting at the top of the show tech," the director said loudly. "Stand by."
Serio, a sophomore at BC High, decided to stage “God of Carnage” after reading the raucous script last summer.
"I could definitely see my parents in there — whether they would like me saying that or not — but definitely saw my mom in there," Serio said. "Then I thought, ‘How cool would this be to do with kids? To have kids acting like their parents acting like kids?' ”
So Serio pitched the idea to classmate and business partner Ritchie Sullivan this past January. Sullivan, also 16 and from Milton, is the managing director of their fledgling theater company, the Boston Teen Acting Troupe (BTAT). Speaking through braces, Sullivan wanted to make it clear that while "God of Carnage" is being staged in BC High's performance center, BTAT is an independent entity.
"We thought this would be a real challenge for us that would really get us out there," Sullivan said, adding that it seems to be working.
The New York Times picked up on a press release Sullivan sent out and he's been fielding calls from curious people around the country. The managing director also said plans to launch a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.
"We’re doing things that you wouldn’t see at a high school," Serio added.
Serio shares the role of BTAT artistic director with 19-year-old Catherine Spino, now a student at Drew University in New Jersey. She's home for the final rehearsals of "God of Carnage."
"I think it's really great to have this kind of window open to teens if they want to do more cutting-edge stuff," Spino explained. "Not just bubble gum pop musicals and the typical Shakespeare show that most high schools offer."
There's no doubt that “God of Carnage” is a very different theatrical animal than "Grease" or "Romeo and Juliet." The play starts off civil, but ends with venomous exchanges, unbridled mayhem and even some live projectile vomiting. Serio and Sullivan are proud to say this ruthless “dramedy” has never been staged by teens before.
To make it work, the team had to cast young actors who could play believable parents. If they didn’t, Serio said the real parents in the audience wouldn’t get the humor.
"It’s not funny because your son's up there in a big suit and a briefcase pretending to be dad; it’s funny because you realize that your son's up there and he’s playing you," Serio said.
Brendan Caulfield plays Alan, one of the fathers on stage.
"And Alan is the cellphone-abusing father," the BC High junior explained. "Typical."
Throughout “God of Carnage,” Alan, an attorney in a dark suit, keeps answering calls. He's distracted from his wife and family.
"I see him a lot in dads today, where they’re all just workaholics," Caulfield said.
At the same time, Caulfield, a busy student, sees a bit of himself in his character.
"I’m sort of juggling a lot now, so I’m a workaholic too," he admitted with a laugh.
In “God of Carnage” Alan is married to Annette, played by Minh-Y Tran, a senior at Newton Country Day School.
"I’m in wealth management, so I try to be very polite at the beginning of the play," Tran said.
But Annette loses her cool like the rest of the characters in the play.
Tran hopes the adults in the audience will see the fictional characters and say, "Wow, I can be like this sometimes, and it’s really embarrassing to see a part of myself portrayed on stage in front of me right at this moment," Tran said.
"Yeah, parents can be brutal," said drama teacher Adrian Hernandez. He knows this first-hand — he’s been teaching at BC High for 20 years.
"There is that kernel of truth about how parents, when it comes to their kids, are not reasonable," Hernandez said.
Hernandez is a very hands-off adviser to this production and I wondered if he had any hesitations about having these kids playing adults who engage in severely questionable behavior.
"I’m rarely hesitant to put on any kind of show that can teach something, and this is a teaching moment — for parents to learn about themselves, and for the kids to learn about their parents," Hernandez said.
"It honestly teaches you to be a little bit more sympathetic," said BC High grad Kyle Jackson.
Jackson says being in this play has opened his eyes to how little fights can quickly blow up into big ones. His character, Michael, is married to Veronica, played by 17-year-old Newton Country Day student Abby Ryan.
"I think it’s definitely helped me understand the situations that adults get into a little bit better and how people don’t change that much — like their emotions," Ryan said. "It’s just that they learn to control them a little bit better."
Or that’s the hope, according to Boston Teen Acting Troupe director Serio. In the end, though, we're all just a bunch of kids, no matter what our age.
Experiencing this play as a teenager, Serios says, has made him question if his mom really does act that way.
"So I’m definitely now a little bit more watchful of my mom in these types of situations," Serio said.
Serio and the rest of his youthful cast look forward to their parents coming to see their take on “God of Carnage” this week. And they're curious — even mildly nervous — about what they'll think. Most of the adults haven't seen the play before and have no idea what they’re in for.
This program aired on May 23, 2012.
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