Tuesday, May 1, 2012

God of Carnage at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia

Two boys have a fight on a playground.  One of the boys takes a stick and knocks out two of the other boy's front teeth.  The parents meet to attempt to resolve the situation.  This is the premise of Yasmina Reza's Tony Award winning play, God of Carnage.  The work has undergone several iterations from its original version in French to its English variations translated by Christopher Hampton.  The play shares a theme with Ms. Reza's earlier work Art in that the behavior of supposedly civilized adults is driven by the scenario to devolve into absurdly violent behavior.  At the core of this exercise is a gaping hole caused by the parents and the script forgetting the essential issue---the violent fight between the two children.

God of Carnage is provocative.  The battle between the two sets of parents takes shocking twists and turns as the facade of civility is shattered.  God of Carnage is incredibly funny in the way watching a virtual train wreck is hilarious in a macabre fashion.  The audience heartily laughed throughout the evening.   Yet, God of Carnage the script is ultimately unsatisfactory for failing to address the violent encounter between the two children.   In many ways it is another facet of the growing awareness of bullying, showing that the attitudes of the parents have a lot to do with their children's behavior.

This is a terrific production.  James Kronzer has designed the apartment setting to show an immaculate home that doesn't appear to be child friendly. Kathleen Geldard's costumes help clearly define the personalities of the four characters.  Joe Calarco navigates his actors as they travel from careful strained pleasantries to uninhibited emotional outbursts.  In particular his choices involving the placement of the most antagonistic parents verbally sparring from the far ends of the stage is inspired.

The four actors are incredibly well cast.  Paul Morella is perfect as Alan Raleigh, a corporate lawyer more wedded to his cell phone than concerned with the violent behavior of his son. As his wife, Annette, Vanessa Lock is all tightly wound until the first shocking moment of the play, then she unravels into an emotional prowler.  Andy Brownstein is Michael Novak, the charming lug who loosens everyone up with liberal doses of alcohol.  The astounding Naomi Jacobson, as his wife, Veronica, is controlling and self-righteous even while resorting to violent reactions.

If you go to see God of Carnage you will find a darkly humorous play filled with excellent performances.  Yet the heart of the story is missing.  If there are any lessons to be learned from the awareness of the problem of bullying brought to national attention by the recent documentary Bully it is this.  Veronica has no interest in what might have provoked the violent attack on her son. She is wrong.  It is vitally important that we see the real causes and effects of children who violently attack one another and the description of the injuries to the boy in the play are horrific.  The real issues that God of Carnage barely scratches the surface of are no laughing matter.

God of Carnage is being performed at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia through June 24, 2012.  For tickets and other performance information please visit www.signature-theatre.org. 

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