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Play is dark comedy with intimate setting, real-time action

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by Erin Bradley

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – An intimate setting, with only enough audience chairs to fit on stage, sets the tone for what Bethel College student director Audra Miller promises will be something different in Bethel theater.

The Bethel theater department’s production of God of Carnage, a Tony Award-winning comedy by Yasmina Reza, will be on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage, in the college’s Fine Arts Center, Nov. 15, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are on sale at the Bethel bookstore in Schultz Student Center. The production is rated “R” for language and is not recommended for children.

Centered on a conflict between two families, the Raleighs and the Novaks, the play presents real-time action and is something Miller, senior from Hesston, hopes everyone in the audience can feel part of.

“The plot of revolves around a situation [from] a couple days earlier, where Benjamin Raleigh hit Henry Novak in the face with a stick at the playground,” Miller said. “This play shows the parents of these two boys [meeting] to discuss what should happen with their aggressive children and how to resolve it.”

The play works to show the individuals beneath the “skin” of socially accepted action, and how fast things can escalate, Miller said.

“As the title implies, God of Carnage is hinting that there is a sort of carnage inside all of us,” she said. “Throughout history, humans have prided themselves on being civil and so much more evolved then their relatives the cavemen.

“[Why] Yasmina Reza wrote this, what I think it’s about, is to show how easily [civility] can be stripped away from us in a conflict situation. When we are upset, we automatically resort to very savage instincts.

“It should be a very raw show, a very interesting show. But I am positive that anyone who comes away from it will have learned something.”

The play was originally written in French as Le dieu du carnage and had its world premiere in Zurich in December 2006. It was translated into English and premiered in London in 2008 and on Broadway in 2009.

Megan Siebert, senior from Topeka, who plays Veronica Novak, agrees with Miller’s assessment of the play.

“Well, it’s really new,” she said. “It won the Tony Award for ‘Best Play’ in 2009.

“It’s a kind of dark comedy,” she continued. “They try to act all civilized at the beginning, but you know there is a lot of tension waiting to arise.

“I think it has a lot to say. It’s a commentary about society and individual personalities. You may be grown-up on the surface, but deep down, we all have a childish side.”

Unlike with most plays, the plotline of God of Carnage does not take the audience on a journey. It’s set in real time, so there are no jumps in hours or days – the length of the play is the length of the actual conversation.

Another different aspect is Miller’s decision to place God of Carnage into a very intimate setting to help create the atmosphere. This means the audience will be seated in chairs set up on stage with the actors.

“It’s only four people in one room, and it’s dealing with relationships,” Miller said. “Having the audience farther away would just take away from that [and] from the relationship between audience and actors. Having them closer will make things more intense. It just makes it more real if it is closer.”

To make this happen, the cast of four, Miller and her crew (Miriam Weaverdyck, senior from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Jacob Brubaker, junior from Fairbanks, Alaska) are spending just three weeks rehearsing.

In addition to Siebert, the cast is Creigh Bartel, senior from Newton, as Alan Raleigh, a lawyer; Katie Schmidt, sophomore from Newton, as Annette Raleigh, who is in “wealth management”; and Cody Claassen, sophomore from Whitewater, as Michael Novak, who sells household goods. Siebert’s character, Veronica Novak, is writing a book on the Darfur tragedy and works in a shop specializing in art history books.

Although Miller is not new to the stage, God of Carnage will be the first full-length play she has directed.

“I am not [directing] for the first time per se, because I did one-acts,” she said, “but there is a lot of pressure. You have to have an idea in your head of what the entire thing looks like and then get your actors to fit that, but also let them explore their characters and let them decide some things on their own.”

“It’s kind of fun being directed by a peer,” Siebert said. “The rehearsals feel a little more relaxed but she has a lot of great things for us to work on. Really the difference is [similar] age and that we are friends with her, but she treats us just as professionally as any other director.”

To get this opportunity, Miller had to apply last spring. She chose God of Carnage because she knew the play, and because she thought directing and producing would be simpler with a smaller cast.

Having only four actors has made it easy to have flexible practice times, which with this group’s busy schedule usually falls late at night.

“Rehearsals have been really fun,” Siebert said. “We’ve all been a little slap-happy. If you walk past Krehbiel Auditorium late at night, you’ll hear six people laughing, [which] speaks to how funny the play is.”

Because of the audience seating arrangement, there will be a limited number of tickets available and seating will be general admission. Ticket prices are $10 for adults; $8 for non-Bethel students and people 65 years and older; and $5 for Bethel students. Tickets are currently available in Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, open Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 316-284-5205.

A talk-back session with director and cast is scheduled for Friday evening, directly after the performance.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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