Saturday, March 31, 2012

Adults Behaving Badly

In his delightful book, Marley & Me: Live  and Love with the World's Worst Dog, John Grogan takes readers through the life cycle of his pet Labrador retriever, who enters his home as an oversized puppy, develops the destructive power of an enthusiastic tornado, and eventually becomes old, tired, and nearly deaf.  In his declining years, Marley (who once couldn't wait to give chase to anything that moved) can barely muster the strength to lift his weary eyelids to peer at whatever is crossing his path.

We've all seen dogs like this.  They sit in front of parks and cafés as children run and scream around them. When they dream, they whimper and move their feet as if chasing a rabbit in their sleep.  But they are past their prime and everyone knows it.

For many men who have reached the age of retirement, the mind may still be chasing sex (even if the body long ago lost the energy to muster pursuit). Many years ago, I was standing in front of Canter's Deli on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles as I eavesdropped on a conversation between several elderly men.

Suddenly, a healthy, shirtless young jock came jogging down the street clad in shiny silver running shorts. When he saw the runner's semi-engorged cock merrily bobbing up in down in his shorts, one of the old men turned to his friend and said "If I looked like that, Saul, do you think I'd still be standing here talking to the two of you about my blood pressure medications?"

* * * * * * * * *
Following on the heels of his success with Mid-August Lunch (2008), actor/writer/filmmaker Gianni Di Gregorio has just released The Salt of Life, in which his character is once again at the mercy of a selfish, vain mother (Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni) who thinks nothing of asking Gianni to come over and jiggle her television set to improve the picture.

Gianni Di Gregorio visits his mother (Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni)
and her friends in The Salt of Life

Having been forced into retirement, Gianni is now a faithful househusband to his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) who is still working, his daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio), and Teresa's slacker boyfriend, Michelangelo (Michelangelo Ciminale). Because he is a generous soul, Gianni doesn't hesitate to walk his sexy young neighbor's St. Bernard whenever he has to run an errand, or cook dinner when necessary.

While other men his age are still cruising women and trying to find themselves a mistress, Gianni is too busy trying to help people -- and tend to his mother's needs -- to have the strength to pursue an affair. He's also reached the age where attractive women no longer see him as a viable sexual partner.

A reunion with an old flame (Valeria Cavalli) brings back fond memories of days gone by. Some of the women in his life adore Gianni as a grandfatherly figure; others admire his cooking and sweet personality.

After sipping a drink that had been spiked with drugs, Gianni and
his neighbor's St. Bernard roam the streets in The Salt of Life.

"In Italy, it’s the men who try to pretend that they never get old," explains Di Gregorio. "In my experience the women are more realistic and can deal with that situation far better. They are more rooted in reality while men (even 20 years after the fact) still prefer to think that they are young."

Although an old friend (Alfonso Santagata) is eager to send Gianni to a prostitute (and even force feeds him a Viagra-like stimulant), Gianni is too tired and distracted to perform. Later, when Alfonso tries to set up a double date with the gorgeous Squizzato twins, Gianni shows no interest.

Although Di Gregorio hadn't planned to make a sequel to Mid-August Lunch, he was apparently coaxed into doing so. While The Salt of Life has some sweet moments, much of the film seems to be struggling to find its ending. When Gianni is finally surrounded by adoring, sexy, women, it's the only logical way something like this could happen: in a tired old man's dreams. Here's the trailer:

* * * * * * * * *
Unlike Gianni Di Gregorio, the four characters in God of Carnage are still full of piss and vinegar. The dramatic event which brings two couples together (one son beat up the other couple's son in a playground scuffle; the victim -- who came home with two broken teeth -- called the other boy a snitch) simply serves as the foundation for an evening of farce and recriminations unleashed by the talented French playwright, Yasmina Reza.

As directed by Rick Lombardo, the San Jose Rep's co-production with the Arizona Theatre Company takes place on a handsome unit set designed by Kent Dorsey. All four parents begin the evening as middle-aged adults whose earned wealth, professional status, and feigned empathy should allow them to deal with their children's fight quite rationally.

Unfortunately, any pretense at adult behavior quickly gives way to snarling accusations and seething resentment as the adults connect with the very worst personality traits of their inner children.
  • Alan Raleigh (Benjamin Evett) is an obnoxious lawyer who has become a slave to his cell phone.  Although disinterested in having sex with his wife, he has no problem boasting that his son has turned into an adolescent thug. His glibness (bolstered by his smarmy ability to use technology and public relations as professional weapons on behalf of his pharmaceutical client) have earned him the scorn of his sex-starved wife. 
  • Annette Raleigh (Joey Parsons) is a wealth manager who has perfected a veneer of professional behavior. Although Alan may refer to his wife as "Woof-woof," Annette is not someone to be trifled with. Push her buttons too hard and she goes from zero a raging bitch in a split second. 
Benjamin Evett and Joey Parsons in a scene
from God of Carnage (Photo by: Tim Fuller)
  • Michael Novak (Bob Sorenson) is a hardware salesman who has no interest in pretentious behavior, material acquisitions, the arts, or the finer points of baking clafoutis. Like Alan, he had his own gang in school and is damned proud of that fact.
  • Veronica Novak (Amy Resnick) is the kind of helicopter mother who tries so hard to do what she perceives to be politically correct. Put some rum in her, however, and she becomes hell on wheels.
Amy Resnick, Bob Sorenson, and  Benjamin Evett in a
tense moment from God of Carnage (Photo by: Tim Fuller)

God of Carnage begins with two sets of parents squaring off against each other and soon devolves into an age-old battle of the sexes and the two women bond with each other and the men find similar strength in numbers.  Reza's play requires an ensemble that can skillfully transition from a polite comedy of manners filled with people making snotty remarks about each other into a physical brawl in which supposedly mature adults degenerate into screaming brats whose behavior would embarrass their children.

Bob Sorenson, Joey Parsons, and Benjamin Evett in a
scene from God of Carnage (Photo by: Tim Fuller)

While the four actors work well together as an ensemble, I was especially taken by Benjamin Evett's loathsome lawyer and Joey Parsons (whose talent at physical comedy transforms her from a tightly-wound, somewhat submissive wife to an avenging antelope). God of Carnage continues through April 15 at  San Jose Rep (click here to order tickets). In the meantime, here's the trailer:

No comments: