Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

God of Carnage
Novato Theater Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's reviews of The Night Alive and Hand to God

Ken Bacon, Jena Hunt-Abraham, Heather Shepardson,
and Marty Lee Jones

Photo by Fred Deneau
Yasmina Reza has made a playwriting career out of portraying smart, educated people as they descend, quite humorously, into uncivilized behavior, thus exposing the caveman-like underbelly of so-called polite society. Her 2008 hit play God of Carnage delivers this descent in hilarious fashion, and you can see it in action right now in Novato Theater Company's excellent staging. A fine cast and superior production values make for a superb 90 minutes of entertainment, full of surprises, zingers, and even some food for thought.

Self-made businessman Michael and earth mother arts writer Veronica (Marty Lee Jones and Heather Shepardson) have invited the Raleighs to their upscale Brooklyn home to discuss an altercation between their 11-year-old boys. Corporation lawyer Alan and trophy wife Annette (Ken Bacon and Jena Hunt-Abraham) readily admit their son Benjamin's wrongdoing, as he did after all hit Henry with a stick, damaging two teeth. Initially, it all seems cut and dried, the two couples amicably discussing potential strategies for resolution of the conflict: Perhaps a meeting? With or without parents? What kind of consequences? And so forth.

But over espresso and homemade clafoutis, conflicting opinions emerge, tensions surface, and intellectual demeanors and niceties begin to crumble. Veronica's insistence on certain language to describe the fight raises Alan's hackles, if he can stay off his cell phone long enough to voice his objections. Annette's feeble attempts at peacemaking break down as her own anxiety mounts, and when that spews forth, restrained discussion falls apart. Hell breaks loose, weaknesses in marriages are bared, and no one is safe. Amusing side stories—a lost hamster, a pharmaceutical nightmare, a book about Darfur—highlight the differences among the four adults, while also revealing their similarities in social class, education and values. Once the aged rum is pulled out, it's a no-holds-barred free for all, a lively, uproarious fight for supremacy.

Reza's sharp and funny script is aimed at a certain level of affluence and education, people who pride themselves on their ambition and success. She flays that veneer open, showing how easily baser emotions can take over, essentially saying, "This is who we really are. This is how we behave in real life, without philosophy or intellect." Happily, she serves up the disintegration with so much humor that we can relate, recognizing our own foibles amidst the belly laughs.

Director Terry McGovern has cast the piece well, with four winning actors experienced in shaping believable characters as well as dishing out the comedy. Shepardson delights as well-meaning but righteous Veronica, ultimately divulging vulnerability despite her attempts to claim superiority. Jones has a field day as politically incorrect Michael, spouting some of the play's best lines as well as some of its shockers. Bacon could be a little quicker on the uptake with his cell phone, but carries the role effectively overall, including Alan's failed efforts to distance himself. Hunt-Abraham is a standout as Annette, choosing to imbue the character with more warmth and animation than is typical, which actually serves to accentuate Annette's transformation into a fierce adversary. Her drunkenness is great fun.

Scenic design by Michael Walraven is gorgeous, a terrific representation of a certain social class, down to the books and art objects tastefully displayed; and, one presumes, he's also the brains behind a particularly memorable special effect. There's no program credit for properties, but they deserve mention for adding greatly to the ambience. Costumes by Janice Deneau and Mary Weinberg nicely delineate character, and lighting by Frank Sarubbi and Marilyn Izdebski does the job well. McGovern lands the comedy and clearly understands the text, conveying Reza's message with an expert hand. A few lulls in the second half might pick up in pacing during the run.

A brilliant script plus four first-class actors plus distinctive spectacle add up to an outstanding entertainment, one that will surely leave you laughing—perhaps with a hint of recognition.

God of Carnage, through November 11, 2018, at Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Tickets $18.00-$30.00, available at or at the door just prior to performance.