God of Carnage Review
Kid Stuff—From Bad to Worse
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God of Carnage
Kid stuff goes from bad to worse
Review: Judith M. Wilson
Photographs: Fred Deneau
(l. to r.) Ken Bacon as Alan, Jena Hunt-Abraham as Allison, Heather Shepardson as Veronica and Marty Lee as MIchael in Novato Theater Company's production of God of Carnage.
Kids can be little savages. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. Adults are supposed to know better, but even so, they often have the same instincts. They’re just better at concealing them, often beneath a carefully polished veneer. Appearances are everything, and so when the façade cracks, the results can be brutal, especially when a bottle of rum is involved. And that’s what happens in God of Carnage, the Novato Theatre Company’s current production.
Playwright Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, wrote the original comedy in French, and author Christopher Hampton translated the play into English for the London stage. It’s also been adapted for American audiences. A play with some very funny scenes, it looks at conflict and human nature, and well-developed characters and complex personalities make it a success. It won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in London and a Tony Award for Best Play for a Broadway production, both in 2009.
In the American version, the play is set in Brooklyn, and it puts the spotlight on contemporary middle-class issues, when two sets of parents meet to discuss an altercation involving their sons, in which one attacked the other with a stick. Veronica and Michael Novak, parents of the injured boy, are the hosts, and they set out to be civil, offering Alan and Annette Raleigh food and drink. Veronica is writing a book about Darfur, and Michael is in the hardware business, and they’re solidly middle class. Annette says she’s in wealth management, and Alan is an attorney for a pharmaceutical firm, and they appear to be on an upward trajectory. It’s not clear exactly what Veronica hopes to accomplish with the meeting, other than shaming the other couple into admitting they’re lousy parents and making them grovel. In any case, a revelation about a hamster throws good intentions off track, and polite conversation turns to criticism, which leads to full-on arguments. Alan’s frequently ringing cell phone commands his attention and becomes increasingly annoying. Allegiances shift. The barriers come down, and all four reveal their true selves, causing an initially civilized meeting to devolve quickly. It’s a clever script, and director Terry McGovern gets the pacing and comic timing just right.
The acting is first-rate, as each individual gradually shows another side and continues to change. Heather Shepardson’s Veronica tries to be diplomatic, but as her irritation grows, she becomes judgmental, angry and upset with everyone. Marty Lee Jones plays Michael, who is polite at first, despite his reservations about the meeting, but as time goes on, he becomes increasingly uncouth. Jena Hunt-Abraham is a standout as uptight Allison, who gets stressed and throws up, ending any hope of reconciliation. Ken Bacon as Alan is superior, self-important and easily distracted by his phone, but he does have a point when he defends his son and challenges Veronica and Michael to explain what their boy did to provoke the violence.
Michael Walraven’s set design is an attractive interpretation of a middle-class Brooklyn home, with a Mark Rothko print on the wall, art that reflects Veronica's interest in Africa, books on the coffee table and tulips in a vase. Janice Deneau and Mary Weinberg are the costume designers, and they outfit their characters in clothing that reflects their personalities—Alan in a suit and Allison in a close-fitting red dress with coordinating shoes and Michael with an untucked casual shirt and jeans and Veronica informal, but with a touch of class. Richard Squeri’s fight choreography is well managed and adds a crucial element to the action.
In the end, the two couples go their separate ways, and no one wins. It’s a different story for the audience. As observers, they get to laugh at the missteps and chaos and reflect on human nature. And that’s a satisfying outcome.
God of Carnage runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through November 18 at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato. For more information, go to . For tickets or subscriptions, email email@example.com or call 415-883-4498.