Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

God of Carnage
Stray Dog Theatre

Also see Richard's review of White to Gray


Sarajane Alverson, Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick,
and Michelle Hand

A schoolyard fight escalates to something very much like the end of the world, in Yasmina Reza's uproarious (and even outrageous) 80-minute comedy from 2007.

The high style of actress Sarajane Alverson seems to mix and transfer across the stage, with that of the unpretentious, naturalistic Michelle Hand, until somehow, by the end of the evening, the two actresses' signature identities magically seem to have changed bodies with each other. In the final 20 minutes, Ms. Alverson has never been more down to earth, nor Ms. Hand (contrarily) more grand and imposing. And that's just another one of the ways you know it's the end of the world.

God of Carnage won the 2009 Tony Award for best play on Broadway, and (before that) an Olivier Award for best new comedy in London. On one level, it's just a fantastic situation comedy, with an endless string of laughs. But it all springs from the modern politesse of young, modern, high-minded success stories—who are gradually stripped of every shred of dignity and self-importance as the show goes on.

Here, director Gary F. Bell weaves a whole silent language of marrieds into the dialog, till Ms. Alverson seems truly (sometimes hopelessly) married to Michael Juncal, as (ostensibly) a hardware wholesaler; and Ms. Hand to Stephen Peirick, as a globe-trotting attorney in the middle of a business scandal. Thanks to all their chemistry, this great comedy is not just about two sets of parents trying to defend their children from a dangerous world; it's also about who we "get stuck with" and how that sets up the family we'll inevitably have to make.

But Mr. Peirick as Alan is constantly distracted by urgent phone calls; and Ms. Alverson as Veronica is clearly going right in to a defensive, "momma grizzly bear mode," as the parent of a child whose teeth got knocked out at school. Both their spouses are left to roil in outrage. A steady stream of revelations and confessions—along with a barrage of laughs—also keeps the play roaring right along at 100 miles per hour.

It's a sort of "farce of the mind," without any real slamming doors—unless you count the doors of the hearts of aggrieved husbands and wives. And there's no death either, unless you count the one-and-a-half teeth that got destroyed, which seems to amount to a pretty horrible crime in this particular living room (beautifully designed by Rob Lippert). There is sickness and misery on a grand scale, as well as the prospect of immense financial ruin. And questions about identity, too: for example, what does Mr. Juncal's hilarious but vaguely nefarious character really do for a living, anyway? All the right boxes are checked, but playwright Reza has made sure to do it with invisible ink.

So you'll just have to take it on credit: God of Carnage has all the pace of farce, and achieves much the same effect with only the barest implication of the usual devices: a lot of emotional doors get slammed; fortunes and families and even lives seem to be at stake; and identities get a little mixed-up, too (though in this case it's mostly a St. Louis phenomenon—with the artistic "personhoods'' of the two women on stage reversed, by a very amusing coincidence—or perhaps by good direction).

Call it what you will. To me it's just a really good time.

Translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton. Through February 21, 2015, with some upcoming shows already sold out. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.

Cast
Veronica: Sarajane Alverson
Annette: Michelle Hand
Michael: Michael Juncal
Alan: Stephen Peirick

Behind The Scenes
Director/Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Scenic Design: Rob Lippert
Lighting Design: Tyler Duenow
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall


Photo: John Lamb


-- Richard T. Green


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