God of Carnage is bringing hurled glasses and vicious insults to the Milwaukee Rep stage, April 18-May 14. Ryan Quinn, a Racine-raised and New York-based director, is leading the Rep’s take on the acclaimed play, which follows two couples’ increasingly unhinged argument over their children’s misbehavior. “There are rules to being civilized adults … and we slowly watch these rules fall apart,” Quinn says.
We spoke with Quinn about his approach to taking on the play.
You directed God of Carnage once before for students at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. What brought you back to the play?
I fell in love with [God of Carnage] at the American Academy. When I saw that Milwaukee Rep was doing it, I thought, please, please, please, if I don’t get a call to do this, I’m going to call them up and ask. Lo and behold, they called. I love that it’s a language play. I love it because I’m the age of the characters, and I have a daughter right now. The play’s a little bit crazy but it all stems from a bit of truth. The play is about two couples that are meeting to discuss, in a very civilized way, their kids, 11-year-olds who have gotten into a fight in the playground. They meet in this Brooklyn apartment to resolve the matter. As they proceed in a very civilized manner, the diplomatic grown-up debate takes a big turn for the worst and the gloves come off. The couples’ end being more kids than their kids are. It’s super fun. In many ways, it starts as a contemporary kitchen-sink drama, and it feels like it moves on to a full-on French farce. It feels like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Tartuffe meet HBO’s Big Little Lies.
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God of Carnage is a Tony-award winning play. How do you approach something with such a history of acclaim.
I can’t escape the fact that the play has been done before. But I think what’s most helpful to me whenever I start a play – even if it’s Hamlet – is to think about it as if it’s a new play. I ask myself, “Why this play? Why me? And why now?” Starting with those questions helps me find my way. I’ve never actually seen [God of Carnage.] I’m a little nervous to even watch the movie that was made of it because you see things that work, and once you know those things work, it’s hard to see the play working in other ways. The one thing that we know about [God of Carnage] is that the play works. When we’re in rehearsal, pounding our head, trying to figure out moments, we know that there’s a light on the other side of the tunnel if we just really adhere to what the text is saying.
While you’re based in New York, you’ve worked with the Rep before. What are your thoughts on the Milwaukee theater scene.
I love the Rep. I feel at home, and I feel challenged, and I feel inspired by the artists that are there. I feel like Milwaukee is lucky to have a lot of cool theaters. Ya’ll have a great group here. I feel it’s an exciting place to come see theater.