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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

God of Carnage
Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Also see Richard's review of Blood Wedding

What might happen, Yasmina Reza asks, when the four parents of two boys involved in a playground fight come together to seek—well, what, exactly? The psychobabble word for it is "closure," but it is clear from Reza's crisp opening lines that there are darker purposes on all sides, motives primitive to the point of being feral. A wrong has been committed—or at least it seems so to Veronica Novak, whose son has lost two teeth—and she, helicopter parent par excellence, has written a brief position paper laying out her demands for redress. Annette Raleigh, mother of the alleged perp, is fluent in Veronica's language, making all the proper "thank you for sharing" noises, but she and her uber-obnoxious lawyer husband clearly aren't going to stand by while their son gets trashed—especially by Veronica and her throwback mate, Michael, whose wealth, while apparently considerable, comes from wholesale building supplies.

It's about class, as in Harold Pinter, and it's about the tangled web of human deception, as in Edward Albee. But Miss Reza, a rare and gifted master of the stage as a medium, isn't pursuing that sort of line here. Like her other masterpiece, Art, this is the kind of play actors would give their eye teeth to be in, because it is superbly a vehicle that gives them range to display their talents. God of Carnage is about the way characters can be developed, become flesh and blood, intimately familiar to the audience on the basis of 90 minutes and a relative handful of words; and it is about the way characters can be moved about on the game board, shifting alliances, falling from elevated intentions to the basest of motives, always and in all ways demonstrating their full, rich humanity.

There is expensive booze involved, and there are expensive clothes, and there is—spectacularly—a cell phone which Alan Raleigh uses like a peacock spreading its feathers; these are the counters with which people like the Novaks and Raleighs keep score. There is a smart flat, masterfully realized on the Rep's thrust stage by designer Narelle Sissons, with elegant furniture and freshly cut tulips and a sleek drinks cabinet; it doesn't take the audience long to figure out that the apartment, the furniture, and the tulips—and the cell phone—are going to be trashed before the lights go down.

Triney Sandoval, whose appearance as the inspector in last year's Crime and Punishment impressed the Rep audience, returns to give a vigorous—not to say animalistic—reading of Michael, the cave man. Anthony Marble, who also impressed local audiences as Dr. Jekyll, is perfect for the arrogant, polished, but equally ferocious Alan. Eva Kaminsky sparkles as Veronica Novak, whose veneer of polite concern masks some seething resentments. Susan Louise O'Connor is brilliant as the prim Annette, whom a couple of hits of fine old rum reduce to a very low common denominator.

If there is a flaw in Miss Reza's game plan, it is that the characters get very drunk, very quickly, and on not very much booze. Much of what happens depends on rum-fueled loosening of inhibitions, and to that extent the plot is old news; still, Miss Reza surprises us with the intensity and the accuracy of her characters and their actions.

Director Edward Stern has a penchant for very broad acting, and God of Carnage gets loud and furious at times, but his actors always seem to be under careful control, and play elegantly as an ensemble.

Like Art, this play happens in one ninety-minute act, thus both avoiding the break in intensity caused by an intermission and getting the audience out of the theater in time to have a coffee and talk about the experience.

The Rep's production of God of Carnage is a splendid demonstration of what theater can be when a genius imagines characters and sets them in motion, and when gifted actors bring those characters to life. This is a play and a production not to be missed.

God of Carnage will run through November 6 at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. For ticket information, call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.


-- Robert Boyd

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