God of Carnage
Also see Fred's review of Bossa Nova
Christopher Hampton's translation of Yasmina Reza's script places the action in the Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, home of Veronica (Candy Buckley) and Michael (Wynn Harmon) Novak. They have welcomed for discussion Annette (Susan Bennett) and Alan (Royce Johnson) Raleigh. It seems that the Raleighs' son, Benjamin, struck the Novaks' son, Henry, with a stick during a playground skirmish. The result is that Henry has lost two teeth and needs further dental attention.
Michael runs a domestic furnishings business and, for a time, mounts a pretense of civility. Remember, though, that he makes his living selling appliances. Veronica is initially calm, reasonable, reassuring, and quite generous. She reeks of gentility. Annette, at the outset, is passivebut only for a while. She loses complete control of herself more than once. Meanwhile, Alan Raleigh, an attorney, is forever interrupted with cell phone calls which he must take. He will call his own son a savage.
There's plenty of humor within God of Carnage and this cast makes the most of the comedic potential. Some is slapstick, some dark, some completely uninhibited. Any remaining facade is eradicated when Annette, physical ill, ruins Veronica's coffee table books. The four combatants take on all sorts of groupings which include various configurations. Men side with men and women with womenbut not forever. Alan and Veronica agree about something as do Annette and Michael. The language is both foul and fun and everyone's manners are dreadful. As the production shifts into gear, it's fast, furious and funny. Were it all not so amusing, the topic and implications might become worrisome.
Yes, it's a rough and tumble contemporary inter and intra couples farce. The primal scream moments (especially those generated by Candy Buckley as Veronica) are hilarious even when predictable. Reza writes sharp dialogue and Thompson pushes the pace. In addition, this play demands physical dexterity from its cast and specific facilitation from the director. The TheaterWorks production scores high marks as nothing is haphazard.
Donald Eastman's set is simple yet appropriate: The confines of a comfortably trendy Brooklyn apartment include the welcoming sofa at its center and an array of liquor offerings stage right. The performance space thrusts into the audience, which heightens immediacy.
God of Carnage is a prize fight without an ultimate winner. It begins peacefully as the individuals and teams jab and establish position. The escalation occurs rapidly and each of the four participants lands telling blows. Finally, no one really is victorious. The pre-adolescent sons (often referenced but never, of course, seen) precipitated the jousting. While Henry is victimized, it is just possible that he provoked Benjamin. Neither the audience nor the outraged and outrageous parents will ever know.
God of Carnage continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through December 18th. For ticket information, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol