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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Wild and Wonderful Production of Yasmina Reza's
God of Carnage

Also see Richard's reviews of Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men and A Behanding in Spokane

God of Carnage
Stacy Ross and Remi Sandri
Yasmina Reza has certainly struck box office gold with this 75-minute award-winning comedy. God of Carnage has been popping up all around the regional theatre circuit and I predict that community theatres in this country and the UK will be presenting this marvelous confrontation between two adult couples for years to come. The playwright shows how little it takes to strip us of our proprieties and set us lunging for each others' throats: the title of the play is probably her most explicit statement. It is also interesting to see the sense of accelerated Albee-like dialogue about the breakdown of the fortresses of reason under the influence of a few glasses of rum.

The premise is simple. Two sets of upper middle-class parents have come together to discuss a fight between their 11-year-old sons. Veronica (Stacy Ross), the micro-managing mother of the injured child, wants an apology from the aggressor. And she wants to make sure he means it, as she has been told (the boys are not seen in the play). The parents of the assailant, Annette (Rachel Harker) and Alan (Warren David Keith), arrive hoping this will be an adult meeting of compromise between the two families. Michael (Remi Sandri) says to his wife Veronica, "I got your back."

Unfortunately, Veronica is a control freak and she makes the fatal mistake of trying to parent other people's children. Ultimately, her husband does not come to her aid and the pretenses of polite society begin to fall away. So what happens in this type of comedy when the mothers forget their manners? Well, the claws come out. God of Carnage becomes a hilarious cat fight between the women while the men drink aged rum.

I have heard that many productions have used this 75-minute production to present pure slapstick among the two couples. The Roman Pulaski film that was released this year showed the couples in many slapstick scenes. Ryan Rilette and his cast ration the laughter to dig deeper into the layers of refinement they try, but fail, to maintain. The director could not find a better cast to present this comedy of bad manners.

Veronica, a specialist in African culture and writing a book on the Darfur tragedy, is the loftiest-minded of the group on how to deal with boys ("Fortunately there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, isn't there?"). Stacy Ross is exciting in the role. Veronica starts out as being a most pleasant host who raves about her homemade apple/pear dish and then her voice seems to sink into her boots as she reveals her venom, especially when husband Michael's complete indifference to the problem becomes clearer. You begin to wonder how this marriage of a chic radical to what we find out to be a deep seated racist has endured this long.

Remi Sandri stands out as Michael, the laidback wholesale dealer of domestic goods and self-made man whose mother may be ailing because of the side effects of a medicine produced by the pharmaceutical company Alan is dealing with over the phone. Sandri provides the most steadily developed deterioration and we delight in his ultimate commitment to setting pretenses aside ("I am fundamentally uncouth").

Warren David Keith gives a smart performance as Alan, the cynical corporate lawyer who fuels the intensity of Michael's anger at the unconscionable cover-up of the effects of a drug he's engineering in phone conversations with the head of the drug company. He is arguably the sanest of the quartet and says of the fighting sons that "there is wrong on both sides," conveying the sickly powerlessness of liberalism. He so irks his hosts and even causes his wife Annette to react physically.

Rachel Harker is wonderful as the "wealth manager" wife of Alan. She engages progressively in behaving like a comically high strung teenager. She goes from the most mundane character to, in a matter of moments, tirelessly diving into every physical gag and stunt. It is a tour de force of comic acting.

Nina Ball has designed a magnificently detailed living room set of rough stone walls covered with African masks and finished beams. Meg Neville's costumes are smart and stylish, and Mike Palumbo's lighting is perfect.

The play is a brilliantly uncomfortable dissection of the way some of us live, particularly middle class professional neighbors with problem children.

God of Carnage plays through June 24th at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets please call 415-388-5208 or online at marintheatre.org. Next up will be Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation opening on August 2nd.

- Richard Connema



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