Director Wilson Milam on God of Carnage, a Story With Teeth

Art Attack e-mailed a list of questions the other day to Wilson Milam, the very busy director of God of Carnage. Apparently he chose to discard one section - questions asking about whether he'd been in any fights himself as a child - or they fell off the cart along the way.

So the result is a bit more one-toned serious than we like to be, but a-ok. In a nutshell, Milam is a guy from the States who lived over in England for a while doing theater and now he's back, based in Seattle. He's come to Houston along with a foursome of Seattle-based actors to put on the much acclaimed God of Carnage now showing at the Alley Theatre through January 30.

God of Carnage is about two sets of parents who get together to talk things over after one of their sons has beat up the other one, knocking out his teeth. As the evening progresses, the parents get to fighting themselves, all to reported great comedic effect.

And now, we give you a look at Wilson Milam.

Art Attack: Reading other interviews you have done, it seems you have a reputation for being drawn to plays with violence in them. Why?

Wilson Milam: Ultimately I'm drawn to good writing and many good playwrights are drawn to extreme emotions.

AA: The precipitating incident in God of Carnage involves a kid getting two of his teeth knocked out, which while not as bad as dying or losing a hand is a fairly awful thing to happen at least from a parent's perspective. And yet this is a sort of comedy?

WM: As Annette (played by Bhama Roget) says towards the beginning of the play: "How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?"

One of the things the play is about is how close to the surface people's less civilized impulses lurk. Everybody means to do the right thing, but we can't help our darker urges. Veronica (played by Amy Thone) sees this meeting as a microcosm for the entire world and that if they can get the 2 children to work out their differences, the world will somehow be one step closer to solving its problems.

AA: How is the audience supposed to like these characters who sound pretty unlikeable with all their yelling and hypocrisy?

WM: I like them all. They don't want to be mean and aggressive towards each other. They meet to do the right thing and figure out the best way for their children to work out their issues. But in the process of that conversation their individual agendas begin to overwhelm their good intentions.

AA: What are the components of a good fight on stage? What do you have to avoid?

WM: Surprise for the audience and safety for the actors. These characters are real people and their fighting is clumsy and awkward.

AA: Is it exhausting or cathartic for actors to fight on stage night after night? Do any of them ever get worn out? Need a break?

WM: Yes to all. Yasmina Reza loves language and this is a true ensemble piece. There are 4 characters with an equal need to be heard and 2 couples with very different problems and challenges in their marriages.

AA: You've been living overseas in England for a while. What made you decide to come back to the U.S.? Do you see yourself staying in Seattle? Is it the constant rain that drew you to both places?

WM: I didn't plan to live overseas. I directed two plays in Edinburgh and in London and just stayed after the second one. It was a wonderful experience, but I've missed the U.S. and am delighted to be back. I'm especially delighted to be back in Texas. I've been here often to visit family.

AA: Beyond the slight adjustments of the characters' names, how does the American version of this play differ from the European?

WM: Yasmina Reza has said in interviews that she likes the American versions of her plays because she likes the lack of formality, the gloves-off attitude that you get with American actors. When her plays are produced in America, traditionally she and translator Christopher Hampton Americanize the language, but this is the first time they've changed the setting to America as well.

AA: What should audiences expect when they come to see God of Carnage? Why should they come to see it?

WM: It has wonderful language and it's extremely funny. This production has four top actors and as these couples observe each other throughout the course of the night there are elements of these characters people will recognize both in themselves and people they know.

God of Carnage runs at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, through January 20. For ticket information go to or call 713-220-5700.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing