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God of Carnage

a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Yasmina Reza

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4218

SHOWING : January 11, 2012 - February 04, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

One of the most lauded plays of the decade having won the 2009 Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Direction, Best Actress In A Play (Marcia Gay Harden) and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. From the playwright that brought Atlanta the unforgettable play Art comes a no-holds-barred new play with a worldwide pedigree – and a universal question – What makes you go over the edge?

But what is it? It's a no holds barred, darkly funny look at the relationships between spouses and friends, and what happens when the littlest things end up pushing us completely over the edge. "Fortunately, there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, isn't there?" We'll see...

As the New York Times said about the original Broadway production, "Never underestimate the pleasure of watching really good actors behaving terribly."


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Red in Tooth and Claw
by Dedalus
Sunday, January 29, 2012
4.5
“Behaving well gets you nowhere. Courtesy is a waste of time, it weakens you and undermines you …”

That is the central conceit of the characters in Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning “God of Carnage” (translated by Christopher Hampton). And, yet, I can’t escape the notion that the play (and Ms. Reza) are more optimistic than her characters, more “living in hope” that the veneer of civilization we wear is more than a façade, that it (all evidence to the contrary) keeps the “God of Carnage” from running amok and elevating anarchy to an ideal.

Ms. Reza is a French playwright (“Art” is perhaps her best-known prior work), and “The God of Carnage” was first produced in Paris, then London, before coming to Broadway. On its way across the Atlantic, the characters lost their French identities (becoming New York suburbanites) and the play’s title lost its “The.” Making its way to Atlanta, the characters have become African American, and their locale suspiciously Southern. This play is nothing if not adaptable to locale.

The Novaks (Veronica and Michael) have invited the Raleighs (Alan and Annette) into their tastefully furnished home. It seems that a schoolyard scuffle between their respective 11-year-old sons has resulted in the Novak boy losing some teeth. The civilized thing to do would be, of course, to talk through the whole thing without resorting to lawsuits and insurance claims. Civilization doesn’t stand a chance, as the evening degrades into a petty, bickering verbal slug-fest, leaving us envious of a child’s ability to just pick up a stick and whack the heck out whoever it is that’s pi$#&ng him off.

And it isn’t the couples at each other’s throats as much as it is a free-for-all, wives after husbands, men after women, both couples after the others’ son. The irony of it all is that the carnage here is not the red-in-tooth-and-claw variety exhibited by the off-stage children, but the more “civilized” modes of passive-aggression, thinly veiled insult, cold-shoulder contempt, and pretense. The only victims of real physical violence are a cell phone and a pot of tulips (I do not include the coffee-table art books, victims of a sudden [deleted by the spoiler police], in this list).

One of the strengths of the play is the presumed guilt or victimhood of the families’ sons. The Novaks, of course, consider their son to be the victim of a thug armed with a stick. The Raleighs believe their son resorted to the only means necessary to defend himself against a gang of bullies. Since we never hear the sons’ story, both (or neither) explanation is true or false, and serves only as a catalyst to open up wounds within the two marriages, and to spark warfare between the two couples.

I also like how easily the façade of courtesy falls victim to minor irritations and mis-placed enthusiasms. We can all be civilized when our children rend at each other, but pay more attention to your cell phone conversation than to us, and watch out! We can calmly discuss our son’s broken teeth and arrange a détente between your son and mine, but, accidently [deleted by the spoiler police] onto my prized books, and watch out! We can sit and calmly snack on Clafoutis (a pastry of apples, pears, and gingerbread), but side with THEM against OUR SON, and WATCH OUT!

And, of course, once the rum comes out, civilized courtesy goes right down the loo like so much effluvia.

The choice to populate this play with African-Americans works in every sense, though I have to say, a mixed-race cast would add another layer of sub-text that would fit in nicely with the threads of hidden violence (especially when a specific racial epithet is tossed out casually at one point). The play gets at the universal animal nature in us, where instinct trumps veneer, when hostility leaves civilization in the dust. In the final analysis, ethnicity (even race) is just another veneer that proves irrelevant when the gloves come off.

And this cast is truly a joy to behold. Jasmine Guy and Keith Randolph Smith are the Novaks and Crystal Fox and Geoffrey Darnell Williams are the Raleighs, creating characters who not only distinct and compelling, but COUPLES with individual dynamics and emotional complexities. I believed them not only as couples meeting for the first time, but also as partners with distinct “unspoken signals” and long-suppressed grudges.

Edward E Haynes Jr has built a set that isolates them in the center of the spacious Alliance stage while paradoxically evoking a large and airy living space. It’s a beautiful set in which the Novaks seem right at home (and the Raleighs seem like aliens). And Kent Gash makes a welcome return to Atlanta to direct the play with a bristling pace that keeps the evening nasty, brutish, and short.

So, of course, the question remains – are we, as a species, defined by how civilized we are, or by how brutal we are? Is it an accident that most of our sense of history is rooted in whatever wars or conflicts are occurring at any particular time? Is our fascination with atrocity and violence a symptom of moral decay or a “safe” release of a primal darkness hard-wired into our species? Is our true creation a product of a God of Carnage or a Prince of Peace? Can two couples talking about their kids escape their own bestial roots?

Yasmina Reza’s “The God Carnage” raises all these questions and lets us discuss the answers among ourselves. Just leave the cell phones, the weapons, and the Clafoutis at home.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Postscript: The Roman Polanski film of this play just opened in Atlanta – hopefully I’ll have a look at that within the next week or so.



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