"It was all about the vomit!" When a director tells you that was an important part of her prep work, you know you're in for a good show.
Directed by Cody Ganger, "God of Carnage" opens Friday at The Empty Space. The play delves into the viscera of marriage as two pairs of parents meet to discuss their sons' recent fight at a neighborhood park.
Despite early attempts at civility, the meeting devolves as the couples turn on each other, leading to the show's memorable vomiting scene, which Ganger promised will deliver.
"That's probably one of the most important moments of the show, so there's no way you can't do it. Now, you have to come to see how we do it. It is a great bit of theater magic -- one of the most exciting things I've ever had to figure out."
Helping bring that moment to life is actress Amy Hall, who plays Annette Raleigh, the wife of high-powered attorney Alan (Jack Slider) and mother of the boy who knocked out two of his classmate's teeth. Bob Kempf and Kim Chin play Michael and Veronica Novak, a hardware salesman and writer, respectively, whose son was injured in the fight.
The play is a good choice for the black-box theater, according to Ganger.
"I jumped at the chance to work with the cast. 'God of Carnage' is also a perfect fit for The Empty Space, because it takes place in one location, it's hysterically funny and, more than anything else, it requires a phenomenal, tight-knit cast, which we had coming into the project."
How close-knit? Well, this isn't the first time Hall and Slider have played a troubled couple. The pair traded barbs as Maggie and Brick last year in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Ganger said it was easy to direct the pair with that much history.
"Jack said when he came on board for this show, 'Every show I've done at The Empty Space, I've been married to Amy or fighting with Amy.'"
Although Kempf and Chin can't claim the same, both are familiar with the other's work, having acted together for years and shared campus space at Bakersfield College, where both have taught theater.
Working with a seasoned cast simplified her job, Ganger said.
"Not all four of them had relationships, but since there were relationships at all, it was way easier (to direct them).
"Because it's a show requiring them to be so uninhibited, to take risks, be vulnerable, it allowed them to go there a lot faster than if they were trying to become comfortable with each other first. They were able to go right there."
The foursome did such a good job portraying couples fraying at the edges that it slightly unsettled Ganger, who is a newlywed of a year and a half.
"There's a specific line that Bob's character says: 'You see those young couples getting married and they have no idea what they're getting themselves into.' I get a little twinge.
"(My husband) Kevin is stage manager. Both of us have been in the rehearsals. I'm looking at it (the show) and saying what do we do to avoid this? To continue to be honest with each other, keep communication open?"
Although the show embraces the baser side of human nature, addressing the "god of carnage" (the human propensity for violence), it also finds the humor in life.
"It's got something for everyone! These are just very universal issues -- relationships, children, money, work, etc. It's also got humor for everyone on the spectrum -- at moments the play is very intellectual, and there is plenty of completely un-intellectual humor -- the vomit is, of course, the best example of that."
With drama, laughs and some special effects, this show is worth catching in its limited run, Ganger said.
"The show is absolutely hilarious! It makes you think, and makes you look at your own life in a new way. The acting in this show is top-notch, some of the best that Bakersfield has to offer.
"And it's only a little over an hour long, so you can still get to bed at a reasonable hour."