Aspen Art Museum to host bit of Broadway with play reading | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Art Museum to host bit of Broadway with play reading

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Published: Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN – If there’s anything David Ledingham enjoys more than big physical comedy, it’s fighting about the big social issues of our time. Which is why Ledingham relishes the chance to return to the work of the contemporary French playwright Yasmina Reza.

“In my opinion she’s one of the best playwrights we have today. She’s like a modern version of Moliere,” Ledingham said of Reza, whose 1987 debut, “Conversations After a Burial,” actually won the Moliere Award, France’s equivalent of the Tony Award. “But her farce is more disguised in the culture of today. She’s dealing with topics that are controversial, that spur strong opinions.”

Reza’s latest subject is parenting – over-parenting, competitive parenting, comparitive parenting. “God of Carnage,” which was first performed, in the original French, in 2006, and is currently on Broadway, in a production featuring James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis, starts with a playground fight between 11-year-old boys. The two sets of parents get involved, and while everything starts pleasantly enough, when the talk turns to parenting styles, all hell breaks loose.

Ledingham leads a reading of “God of Carnage” Thursday at the Aspen Art Museum. The reading, which also features local actors Jeannie Walla, Kent Reed and Kathy Pelowski, is part of the performance series connected to the museum’s current Roaring Fork Open exhibition.

Polite conversation about a heady topic devolving into a battle royale is a general outline that also applies to “Art,” Reza’s 1994 work which, like “God of Carnage,” earned the Tony Award for Best Play. In the earlier work, three friends come together to view and discuss an expensive piece of modern art one of them has purchased. A disagreement over the merits of the painting spills over into a fierce comedy of accusations, threats – and the ultimate question of what we value in art.

Ledingham, who was raised in Aspen, went on to a national career in stage and in television, and returned to Aspen, saw the original Broadway production of “Art.” He was impressed, but also thought a huge Broadway theater was an imperfect setting for a three-person comedy. “It was directed very static. Not a lot of movement,” he said.

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Ledingham got the opportunity to stamp his vision on the play in 2003, when he directed “Art” for Theatre Aspen. “What excited me was directing it in this up- close-and-personal space. I could make it more physically active, more of a farce,” he said. Among those satisfied with the results was Ledingham himself, who calls it his most satisfying directorial experience.

Even though Thursday’s event is a bare-bones reading, Ledingham is enthused to dig again into Reza’s world of conflict. “What starts out as this very peacy, friendly, we’re-all-in-this-together atmosphere slowly digresses into an all-out battle. Not only between the two couples, but within the couples’ own relationships,” said Ledingham, who will read the part of Michael, the character who is always trying to smooth things over. “It becomes this jumping-off point for … carnage. And she explores what parenting does to

romance, relationships, freedom.”

Ledingham says “Art” and “God of Carnage” share not only a similar plot, but subjects that tend to say a lot about what kind of people we are.

“Both topics say a lot about who we are as a people, as a modern society,” he said. “And it’s so the opposite of what our parents were.”

Ledingham, who selected the material for Thursday’s event and rounded up the actors, said that the newness of “God of Carnage” made it especially attractive. Still playing on Broadway – and with a cast that is expected to begin rotating through new actors beginning next week – the play is not expected to be available for regional productions for several years. A reading, however, doesn’t require acquiring the rights.

“It’s exciting to do a reading of a big, hot play years before everyone’s doing it,” Ledingham said. “It’s exciting to hear new words, something fresh.”

stewart@aspentimes.com