The knock-down, drag-out fight that happens onstage during “God of Carnage” is not a physical one. The violence comes in the form of emotional and psychological wounds that two married couples verbally inflict on one another. It’s ugly, even as it’s searingly funny, which is exactly why Penobscot Theatre executive director Bari Newport included it as part of the company’s 40th season.
That big, bloody, believable brawl is what drew Mark Torres to the play, back when he saw it on Broadway during its original late-2000s run. The chance to play one of the four people at the center of the Tony Award-winning play by Yazmena Reza — later adapted into a 2011 film directed by Roman Polanski — was what brought Torres back to Bangor.
“God of Carnage” will premiere Friday, March 14, at the Bangor Opera House, with Torres in the role of Alan.
“It was one of those instances where I saw the play, and thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to be involved in this somehow,’ despite not working in the theater at the time,” said Torres, who was artistic director of Penobscot Theatre between 1992 and 2005. “I could not turn down the opportunity to do this play in Bangor. I jumped at the chance.”
“God of Carnage,” directed by Kappy Kilburn in her third Penobscot Theatre directorial outing after “Ink” in 2012 and “Wit” in 2013, pits Alan and Annette (Jeri Misler) against Michael (Bernard Hope) and Veronica (AJ Mooney). The two couples convene to, in theory, discuss the scuffle their respective sons got into on the playground. It turns quickly into something much nastier.
Kilburn is known for the nuanced, layered performances she coaxes out of her actors, such as the impassioned Puritan woman of “Ink,” the hypnotic, tragic English professor of “Wit,” or the explosive chemical compound of the four individuals in “Carnage.”
“It’s one of the things that I truly enjoy about traveling and directing, and that’s working with new people so often and learning what each actor’s language and process is and pulling it all together,” said Kilburn. “I think if there’s one thing that I look for in everything I do, it’s that central human story … it’s the hope at the center of it.”
Though Hope, Misler and Mooney are seen on stages throughout the Bangor region — Mooney and Hope last seen in Penobscot Theatre’s fall 2013 “The Fox on the Fairway,” and Misler in Penobscot Theatre’s “A Christmas Story” in 2011 — Torres has not performed onstage since he left Bangor in 2005. He hasn’t been back in Bangor since then, either.
“The first thing I noticed when I drove down Main Street was that there was just more here,” said Torres, who lives in Connecticut. “When I moved here in the early 90s the Freese’s building was boarded up. The Sears building was boarded up. There were all these big, white elephants in downtown. Now there’s life here. There’s nightlife, even. That’s a big change.”
Some things, however, don’t change.
“I come into the Opera House, and it feels like home. I know every part of this building, every corner of it. I know the smell of it,” said Torres. “That feels the same.”
“God of Carnage” will run March 13-30, with performances set for 7 p.m. March 13; 8 p.m. March 14; 5 p.m. March 15; and 3 p.m March 16, with performances the following two weeks set for 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.
The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of the Penobscot Theatre Company.