Tempers escalate, pillows are used as weapons and polished furniture is climbed on in what sounds like a scene from a quarrel between rowdy children, but is actually God of Carnage, a comedy featuring Oakton High School’s own drama teacher Vanessa Gelinas.
The play, written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Joe Calarco, opened at Signature Theatre on April 17 and has a cast of four characters. The four, who make up two married couples (the Raleighs and the Novaks), begin a seemingly civil meeting about the misbehavior of their children on the playground but dissolve into bickering and juvenile antics.
Gelinas portrays Annette Raleigh, a successful New York City financial district businesswoman clad in heels and a royal blue jacket and skirt.
"She is in wealth management and her husband is a lawyer, so they're very busy parents who probably spend more time working than parenting," Gelinas said.
Along with her costars Naomi Jacobson (Veronica Novak), Andy Brownstein (Michael Novak) and Paul Morella (Alan Raleigh), Gelinas spent three weeks rehearsing before the play’s 12-week long run.
"For this play in particular, because it's running so long, we have to stay fresh and really listen to each other," Gelinas said. "Some nights it might be a little bit different because the audience is reacting differently."
She now balances eight performances a week while still running the Oakton High School drama department. During the rehearsal period, Oakton High School's former drama teacher Skip Bromley substituted for Gelinas. Now that the show’s weekday commitments are only at night, she is able to teach again.
"It was a nice way for me to be gone without really being gone because Mr. Bromley knew the program so well that he was able to keep it running smoothly while I was away," Gelinas said.
Before Gelinas began teaching, she majored in theater in college. After graduating, she worked in theater in the Washington, D.C., area and then moved to Los Angeles to pursue television and film. In the end, however, she chose to come back to her roots in D.C.
"I really missed theater here a lot and D.C.'s theater scene is so wonderful," Gelinas said.
In particular, Gelinas appreciates the unpredictability of live theater that is caused by the constantly changing audiences' reactions and actors' interpretations of the script.
"I like being on stage live with other people, and that you have to be very present in your work because anything can happen," she said.
In addition to theater, Gelinas, encouraged by her friends, took up a part-time job upon her return to D.C. with the Oakton High School drama department. She has since become a full-time teacher.
"Teaching kind of found me actually," she said. "My father was a teacher and then an elementary school principal. I had a lot of friends who were teachers."
God of Carnage will show at Signature Theatre in Arlington until June 24. Showtimes and tickets can be found at http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/d0474f.