God of Carnage
While it is clear that God of Carnage is an audience-pleaser, I had two concerns approaching the Old Globe's version. First, I wondered whether a playwright who was born in France and writes in French (the British playwright Christopher Hampton translated this play and her previous hit, Art) would adapt to American culture. Second, I wondered how a non-celebrity cast would handle the material.
On the first point, I'm fairly amazed that God of Carnage feels as though it was written for American audiences, even though it played first in Paris and then in London before reaching New York. Perhaps it is because someone (Mr. Hampton, perhaps) picked the setting as Cobble Hill, a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, which turns out to be a perfect venue for two upwardly mobile but not wealthy couples to be living. The dialogue also sounds quite natural to be coming out of these two couples' mouths (if you didn't know, they're discussing the fact that one son hit the other on a nearby playground). Score one for Ms. Reza's perspicacity and for Mr. Hampton's ability at translation.
Not only that, but once things get going the play probably has more laughs per minute than any new play in a while. That is, for about the first hourthe last fifteen minutes go over the top, and the show suddenly starts to slog where it had previously zipped.
Which gets me to the second point: the cast. Because the New York production seemed to be highly dependent on expert performances from well-known actors I wondered whether a regional cast could handle the material. The answer is a qualified yes, but they have help. Three of the performers, Erika Rolfsrud, Lucas Caleb Rooney, and Caitlin Muelder, are alums of the Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA acting program, and the show's director is Richard Seer, the head of that program (the fourth performer is T. Ryder Smith, who has worked at the Old Globe on a number of occasions). Used to performing together, the alumni group created a nuanced ensemble that handled the rises and falls in the tension levels with aplomb. Mr. Smith doesn't quite fit in with the others, but there is nothing to fault in his actual performance. It is only when the action starts to boil over that the performances do so as well.
The success of the production is also helped by Robert Morgan's intimate living room set and his carefully designed costumes complemented by Chris Rynne's simple but effective lighting plot. The in-the-round setting, which could have frustrated those who might want to see every facial expression, ends up allowing actors to focus on body movement, and they do so to hilarious effect.
However it manages to work, God of Carnage is slick contemporary entertainment. Audiences will be laughing through September 2, and tickets may well be scarce.
Performances through September 2, 2012, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $74) are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or online at www.theoldglobe.org.
The Old Globe presents God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Richard Seer, with Robert Morgan (Scenic and Costume Design), Chris Rynne (Lighting Design), Paul Peterson (Sound Design) and Annette Yť (Stage Manager).
Cast: Caitlin Muelder (Annette Raleigh), Erika Rolfsrud (Veronica Novak), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Michael Novak) and T. Ryder Smith (Alan Raleigh).