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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The God of Carnage Shines in Spirited, Rapier Sharp Production

Also see Bob's review of Sleeping Beauty Wakes

God of Carnage
James Ludwig, Betsy Aidem, Chris Curry, and Ann Harada
The Americanized version of Christopher Hampton's smart and colloquial English translation of Yasmina Reza's French comedy The God of Carnage is set in the living room of the Brooklyn Heights apartment of Veronica and Michael. Here, two financially secure, upper middle class, lower middle-aged married couples are meeting to discuss a playground altercation between their respective 11-year-old sons. Henry, the son of Veronica and Michael, has been struck with a stick by Benjamin, the son of the visiting couple, Annette and Alan, resulting in the breaking of two incisors. It would seem that Veronica, who is writing a book about the tragedy of Darfur, has initiated the meeting as she is writing a report on the incident and would like for Benjamin to apologize to her Henry. Still, Veronica is cool. Compensation and damages are of no interest. Her husband, Michael, who is a household goods wholesaler, is particularly genial and laid back.

Annette is really pleased by and grateful for their attitude. Her lawyer husband Alan, who is repeatedly taking client calls on his cell phone, could hardly be less interested in the incident, or, for that matter, anything about his wife and family. However, the civility will soon become unglued. Alcohol accelerates its breakdown.

However, the "your son" vs. "my son" business is just a small bit of the "incivility" on display here. In fact, Alan tries to demonstrate his superiority by declaring his own son a savage. The God of Carnage is more about the "gotcha" games people play in order to stoke their egos by parading their moral, intellectual, emotional and social superiority over the others. Smug amusement and the exhilaration of battle are at least as strongly in play as anger and indignation. The carnage that ensues when the overly polite veneers are stripped away is about as corrosive and uncivilized—and entertaining, as a classic Friz Freleng Looney Tune.

Yasmina Reza has a great gift for sophisticated, semi-absurdist dialogue which hilariously skewers the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing, (until recently) rapidly expanding very upper middle class whose easy success is largely a product of their having had the good fortune to have been able to build their lives in a time and place of extraordinary opportunity. Reza shows their changing attitudes, moods and loyalties in rapid fire transitions. Her gift for hilarious, character driven literate dialogue is amply on display here.

Reza's literate house of cards truly needs the support of a deft and totally attuned cast and director for it to work. Serendipitously, director David Saint is back in top form here as his cast captures every nuanced turn and emotion in the script. The pacing and emphases are perfectly calibrated.

Betsy Aidem deftly maintains elements of the haughtiness which are part and parcel of Veronica through her changing moods. Christopher Curry's wry high-spiritedness draws us in to share the delight that his Michael finds in the combat. Ann Harada exudes a charm under duress which wins our hearts. James Ludwig precisely captures the behaviors of the self-centered ones who devote all their attention to their perpetually in operation cell phones.

James Youmans has fulfilled Reza's request for an abstract set with a gorgeous, open, eminently playable red, white and black beauty.

The God of Carnage may be an over the top title for the human foibles which are on display, but the literate farce and its George Street production hit the bulls eye.

The God of Carnage continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm - and Sun. 7 pm - except 6/5 -/ Matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm - except 5/26) through June 5, 2011 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Box Office: 732-246-7717; online: www.GSPonline.org.

The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza; directed by David Saint

Cast
Veronica Novak...............Betsey Aidem
Michael Novak..........Christopher Curry
Annette Raleigh..................Ann Harada
Alan Raleigh....................James Ludwig


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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