From Social Niceties to No Holds Barred In ‘God of Carnage’
If the Lake Worth Playhouse is already something of a hidden gem compared to the mainstream SFL theatre scene, its Black Box series is an even smaller and lesser known but arguably more intriguing offering than its mainstage counterpart. Trafficking in plays “whose subjects or themes are both thought provoking and relevant to today’s world,” the series is offering one more weekend of its current production of God Of Carnage.
This work by French playwright Yazmin Reza premiered on Broadway in 2009 as well as inspired the 2011 Roman Polanski film Carnage. After Michael and Veronica’s child is “disfigured” by the loss of two of his teeth in a schoolyard kerfuffle, they invite the parents of the other party involved over for a civilized afternoon meeting to discuss the situation. Quickly, the two couples start to clash with each other at every turn, with the eventual result being a cockamamie no holds barred verbal sparring match.
Though the show is slated to run about an hour and a half, director Charlotte Otremba keeps the pace to an even crisper 72 minutes, and also adds in some interesting staging touches such as the use of the theatre’s aisle as the characters’ exit point.
In the first class script, Reza not only keeps several balls in the air but knows exactly when to pick each back up. Running threads like the unfortunate fate of a hamster, Alan’s involvement in a large-scale pharmaceutical corruption scheme, and a potentially bad batch of coffeetea are pulled up again at just the right moment for maximum comedic impact, making for nearly non-stop laughs.
Trish Weaver-Rhodes, Russell Kerr, Jessica Scheidt, and Tom Copeland form a tight ensemble of four and exhibit masterful comedic timing as they embody their largely unsympathetic characters. If anything, some of the ensemble occasionally seemed as if they were playing at a pitch slightly too high, but, later, once and the liquor had begun to flow and the emotions to run ever-higher, this over-the-top energy began to seem more appropriate.
While Veronica and Annette came off as slightly more tolerable than their apish and sexist husbands, the self importance of all four characters ensured that none of them met the bar for “likable,” allowing us to take a sick pleasure in seeing them psychologically disintegrate under each other’s gaze.
This comes in handy when even ostensibly noble enterprises like Veronica’s research on Darfur are the subject of cutting character assassinations, since God of Carnage is a play, too, that perhaps shares something of its DNA with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf in that it unsettlingly illustrates the fact that we ourselves are probably only a few choice takedowns away from being completely emotionally destroyed.
The raw honesty of these characters at their worsts, especially when it comes to loaded and taboo topics, allow us the chance to catch a glimpse of the animal instincts that lurk just beneath the thin veneer of civilized society, always about to erupt. Or, as the character Michael eventually puts it:
We tried to be nice, we bought tulips, my wife passed me off as a liberal, but I can’t keep this bullshit up any more. I am not a member of polite society. What I am and always have been, is a fucking Neanderthal.
It would be, perhaps, a pill too bitter to swallow were it not cloaked in jokes and witticisms, but as there are jokes and witticisms aplenty in this madcap play, it makes for an enjoyable as well as existentially provocative evening. Along with plenty of hilarious dialogue, you’ll find several moments of memorable physical comedy in the mix as well: by the end of the night, art books have been vomited upon, electronics have been drenched in flower pots, and you can bet that someone’s been overdoing it on the rum.
The title of the play, by the way, comes from a phrase uttered by Alan, whose philosophy involves worshipping the chaotic “God of Carnage” rather than embracing a more evolved moral code. It’s not, probably, the best approach to life on the whole, but when the carnage comes with this much comedy, it’s definitely worth worshipping at the theatre.