Northeast Times

Whole lotta yellin' going on

— For North­east nat­ive Ju­lie Czar­necki, some hys­teria and a lot of fa­cial ex­pres­sions are ne­ces­sary skills in the stage play 'God of Carnage.'

Ju­lie Czar­necki and Ben Lip­itz in Wal­nut Street Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of God of Carnage. (Mark Garvin)

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When God of Carnage opened on Broad­way in 2009, it was nom­in­ated for sev­en Tony awards and won three of them, in­clud­ing best play. Now Phil­adelphia audi­ences can see the Wal­nut Street Theat­er’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion of the play, hailed by the New York Times as “First class! A four-way prize­fight.”

It’s about two sets of par­ents who meet be­cause of a fight between their sons in a neigh­bor­hood park. One boy hit the oth­er, res­ult­ing in an in­jury to his teeth.

The par­ents of the two boys get to­geth­er with in­ten­tions of dis­cuss­ing the is­sue in a civ­il­ized way. But the even­ing soon de­gen­er­ates in­to a free-for-all, no-holds-barred con­flict, first between the two couples and then between the mar­ried part­ners them­selves.  

North­east Philly nat­ive Ju­lie Czar­necki is one of the four “prize­fight­ers.” She plays the moth­er of the son who was in­jured. As the moth­er of a young son her­self, she eas­ily relates to the char­ac­ter she plays.

“She’s a reg­u­lar mom who’s try­ing to do right by her son,” Czar­necki says. “Like any moth­er, she gets in­volved when her son is hurt.”

This “reg­u­lar mom” be­haves in a cour­teous, con­trolled way at first — but not for long. Dur­ing the course of this one-act play, in­hib­i­tions are stripped away and each of the four char­ac­ters be­comes in­creas­ingly neg­at­ive, tak­ing jabs at one an­oth­er, hurl­ing in­sults, even get­ting in­volved in some phys­ic­al con­front­a­tions.

For in­stance, at one point Czar­necki grabs a bottle of rum (fake, of course) from her hus­band.  Then, too, there are mo­ments when her an­ger es­cal­ates and her voice be­comes a shriek. At oth­er mo­ments, she cries — even sobs — on cue.

“We get very pas­sion­ate,” says Czar­necki. “All four of us at some point lose our tem­per and get out of con­trol.”

Al­though it sounds like ser­i­ous drama — even me­lo­drama — it’s ac­tu­ally a com­edy. The play­wright hows hu­man be­ha­vi­or when it’s stripped of the ven­eer of cour­tesy, but the act­ors are skilled at cre­at­ing com­edy from their over-the-top be­ha­vi­or.

Dur­ing a re­cent per­form­ance, the audi­ence laughed up­roari­ously at nu­mer­ous lines.  Czar­necki got her share of the laughs — and so did the oth­ers. In­deed, all four act­ors share equally in the spot­light.

“The play­wright is so good at let­ting every char­ac­ter shine,” she says. “We each have our mo­ments when we’re the fo­cus.”

The act­or play­ing her hus­band is Ben Lip­itz. “We have great chem­istry on the stage,” Czar­necki says. “He’s easy to work with … and very funny.”

The act­ors play­ing the oth­er couple are Greg Wood and Susan Ri­ley Stevens, who also are hus­band and wife off­stage. Dir­ect­ing the four is Bern­ard Hav­ard, the Wal­nut’s pro­du­cing artist­ic dir­ect­or.

ldquo;He’s fant­ast­ic!” Czar­necki says. “He cre­ates a sup­port­ive and re­spect­ful en­vir­on­ment for the act­ors, mak­ing it easy for us to our job. We’re free to be ima­gin­at­ive and to take risks.”

Czar­necki’s re­ac­tion when she read the script was im­me­di­ate.  ldquo;Some scripts I have to read sev­er­al times to de­cide, but with this one, I loved it right away.”

So she was de­lighted when her au­di­tion was suc­cess­ful. “I knew I could con­nect with these people, and that it would be a great op­por­tun­ity,” she ad­ded.

In­deed, it’s a lead­ing role in an award-win­ning play — and on the stage of the city’s ma­jor re­gion­al theat­er.

But al­though she’s thrilled with the op­por­tun­ity, pre­par­ing for and then per­form­ing this role has in­volved con­sid­er­able chal­lenges.

One is the sheer stam­ina re­quired. The 75-minute play is per­formed without in­ter­mis­sion, and all four act­ors are on­stage vir­tu­ally the en­tire time.

“Dur­ing the en­tire play, I only leave the stage for about thirty seconds,” says Czar­necki.

On­stage, even when she’s not speak­ing, she’s con­stantly com­mu­nic­at­ing through her non-verbal lan­guage, with smiles, frowns, tears, raised eye­brows and body lan­guage. 

She also has a fair share of dia­logue, in­clud­ing mo­ments when her voice is at highest pitch. “I drink a ton of wa­ter be­fore each per­form­ance,” she ex­plains.

But whatever the chal­lenge, the North­east nat­ive can handle it. She already was play­ing lead­ing roles in school shows dur­ing her days at Naz­areth Academy. Later, she re­ceived her mas­ter’s de­gree in theat­er from Vil­lan­ova Uni­versity, where she was an act­ing schol­ar and re­cip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gi­ous Bri­an Mor­gan Schol­ar­ship for Act­ing.  

She has per­formed on var­ied area stages, in­clud­ing the Wilma Theat­er, New City Stage, Ar­den Theat­er and Vil­lan­ova Theat­er. God of Carnage is her third ap­pear­ance on the main stage of the Wal­nut Street Theat­er.

ldquo;It’s the best place in the city to work!” she says of the Wal­nut. “They treat act­ors with so much re­spect and cour­tesy.”

Des­pite the de­mands of her role in God of Carnage, she looks for­ward to every per­form­ance with her co-stars.  “I’m so for­tu­nate to work with such a tal­en­ted group of act­ors,” she says. “This ex­per­i­ence has ex­ceeded all my ex­pect­a­tions. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know the chem­istry among the four of us would be so elec­tric.” ••

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IF YOU GO

The Wal­nut Street Theat­er pro­duc­tion of God of Carnage con­tin­ues through April 29 at the theat­er, 825 Wal­nut St.  Tick­ets range in price from $85 to $10 de­pend­ing on per­form­ance, with even­ing per­form­ances Tues­days through Sat­urdays and mat­in­ees on Thursday, Sat­urday and Sunday.

For tick­ets, call 215-574-3550, vis­it the Web site at www.wal­nut­streettheatre.org, or or­der through Tick­et­mas­ter. 

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You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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