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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

An Uneven God Of Carnage at Seattle Rep

God of Carnage
Hans Altwies and Bhama Roget
Despite having earned the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play and much critical acclaim, Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage (translated into English as was her prior Broadway hit Art by playwright Christopher Hampton) is something less than a perfect evening of theatre in its Northwest premiere at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. The tale of a playground incident between two boys and the subsequent brouhaha that develops during a détente meeting between the lads' parents sounds like it will be a rollicking 90-minute ride. And at times, director Wilson Milam's slick and handsomely appointed production serves up some big laughs. But overall the show is somewhat spotty, and frankly leaves behind a somewhat bitter aftertaste.

The play has been re-set in Bellevue, Washington, as the original French play was transplanted to New York, with character names altered for the Broadway (and this) production. Real life married Seattle actors Hans Altwies and Amy Thone play the Novaks, Michael and Veronica, whose son Bruno has had two teeth knocked out in a scuffle with schoolmate Henry Raleigh, whose parents Alan and Veronica (Denis Arndt and Bhama Roget) arrive at the Novak's tres chic Bellevue home to attempt a truce between the boys. But what starts out civilly enough between the two couples (who would probably have never socialized with each other) grows into a brawl just short of the sort of mayhem in the movie The War of the Roses. Director Milam doesn't display quite the lightness of touch I think the script asks for and, despite having four of the most talented actors familiar to Seattle audiences, the production doesn't play to all of their strengths.

Film and television veteran Arndt aces his role as pompous lawyer Alan whose over-reliance on a cell phone suggests he'd best have it surgically attached to his ear. Arndt's every line reading, perfectly underplayed reactions, and ease in the skin of his character constantly draw attention. Roget, whose development into a marvelous leading lady has been a joy to behold, earns some of the biggest laughs of the evening as she orchestrates the metamorphosis of her ice-maiden façade into a blithering, sputtering wreck who not only endures an embarrassing bout of projectile vomiting that is almost too graphically believable for words, but a follow-up display of hysteria involving a flower arrangement. Thone's earth mothery authoress is not the most comfortable fit of a role for this capable actress, and her performance grows increasingly irritating and overstated, while Altwies seems a bit too youthful for the self-made wholesale businessman he is playing. He does, however, nail the character's vacuous nature rather well. And when the battle between the couples shifts to the husbands versus the wives for a time, Arndt and Altwies are decidedly the more successful team. We never meet either of the boys whose altercation spurred the parents meeting, but one can only imagine they'd both be rather warped little fellows.

Eugene Lee's icy white, high ceilinged set design, with its minimalist and modernistic furnishings is certainly the right set up for the mayhem that is ultimately wrought upon it, with appropriately stark bright lighting by Geoff Korf, and spot on costume design by Deb Trout.

This production of God Of Carnage is by no means a lost cause, but one that needs to relax and be more playful, lest it unintentionally seem too much like an update of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

God Of Carnage runs through October 24th at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. For tickets or information contact the Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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