Hugo Armstrong on ’God of Carnage’
La Mirada Theatre presents the dark comedy "God of Carnage." Set in Brooklyn, the play concerns two married couples who come together to sort out a playground fight between their sons. Niceties are observed, but as the evening progresses and the rum flows, the gloves come off and the night becomes a side-splitting free-for-all.
The original Broadway production came to California in 2011 and starred Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini. Understudying for both gentlemen was local talent Hugo Armstrong. Now, with some trepidation, Armstrong steps out into the great unknown.
What was it like to understudy for the late James Gandolfini?
To meet those guys and be around such high caliber stuff was incredible. They were really good to me, especially Jim [Gandolfini]. In rehearsals he would fake like he was missing a line just to see me react. Understudying is like being flown out to a war zone every day - I had to know both roles and their lines. It’s like you are standing in a helicopter, ready to jump and then you hear, "No, don’t jump, maybe tomorrow."
Do you remember the lines you learned from that production and is that helpful?
I more remember the rhythms from that cast and how things would change from night to night. I was the only person who saw every night of the show except for maybe an obsessed usher. The script hasn’t stuck in ways that I thought would be helpful. It’s like I carry these residual ghosts of what was an amazing production, but not anything I am interested in copying. I have to go in and have a clean slate for this cast and see what intuitive rhythms we come up with. That seems like a fantasy, that I’ll be able to come in with a clean slate.
The safest thing I could say is it will be what it will be. This is a hell of a show; it’s like a musical quartet. For this production we have two weeks rehearsal and one week of tech. It takes so much accrued concentration.
Wow that is fast. What drew you to audition for this production?
I like that there are puzzles to this show within the layers of the relationships. Puzzles that I don’t yet understand, the emotional physics of the thing. What is the action and reaction between anyone of the events in the play? What is being said and more importantly what isn’t? "God of Carnage" is a big fat knot of those beautiful puzzles and I am attracted to it. In some places I think it is just too much and then in other ways it does not go far enough. That’s what you sign up for and it is super exciting.
How would you describe "God of Carnage" to someone who has not seen it?
There is the face you wear for civilization and then there is who you are intuitively - the real you - the carnal self. When you drop the diplomacy and the face you use to navigate civilization, you are left with something that is far more vital and more interesting. We are constantly being forced into a weird way of being civilized human beings. We like horizontal surfaces, lighting and plumbing. But to be authentic, you have to be on the lookout for what your real instincts are. In "God of Carnage" we see that willingness to be a part of a group, to be civilized, and then it all breaks down in front of us.
What would you say to people considering seeing the show?
If people aren’t sure they want to see "God of Carnage," they should get out and see some piece of theatre. There is great stuff out there, it is worth the risk and the theatre needs you. And if you end up seeing something crappy, you’ve got a good story and something to complain about all week.
Sometimes you catch a show and you want the earth to swallow up the entire theatre including you. Sit together and give it a try, it pays off. Performance is a huge risk every time, but so is getting out of bed, so whatever.
"God of Carnage runs Tuesday, January 28 through Sunday, February 16 at the La Mirada Theatre. For tickets and more information call 714. 994.6310 or go to lamiradatheatre.com