GOD OF CARNAGE
At The Playhouse until May 5 Tickets: 604-665-3407
In her 2009 Tony Award-winning God of Carnage, French playwright Yasmina Reza uses the same setup as Edward Albee in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?: two couples, lots of liquor and loads of psychological baggage.
But while there are-significantly-no children in Albee's play, there are two in Reza's. And Albee spares us the yuck factor by having Honey do her upchucking offstage. In Carnage, Annette does her puking front and centre. I wouldn't sit in the front row, if I were you.
Following 11-year-old Benjamin Raleigh's attack with a stick on schoolmate Henry Novak in an after school scuffle, Henry's mother Veronica has arranged for both boys' parents to meet and discuss the matter. Whether Henry has a couple of broken teeth or has been "disfigured" (his mother's word), she wants Benjamin to apologize to Henry. Benjamin, according to his father is a "savage" and Henry, if he's anything like his mother, is a self-righteous little prick. We never see the boys so who's to say?
It all begins civilly although Veronica's reading of her "statement of events" justifiably sets Benjamin's father's teeth on edge. Alan objects to the phrase "armed with a stick," and Veronica, in the spirit of give and take, rewords her statement to read, "furnished with a stick." But there the civility ends. What we do not surprisingly discover is that these couples have lots of personal and marital issues, and it's not long before the fur flies: Veronica (Shauna Black) takes on Alan and Annette (John Cassini and Vickie Papavs) before turning her rage on her own husband Michael (Oliver Becker). Annette screams at husband Alan to get off the cellphone that's permanently glued to his ear and then she goes gunning for Veronica. Then the men join forces and trash the women; together, the women cast aspersions on their husbands' sexual performance. Long forgotten are Benjamin and Henry and it all becomes obvious that schoolyard brawls are not limited to schoolchildren.
The free-for-all happens on Gillian Gallow's sophisticated, raked set. Laminate floors, off-white furniture, sleek cowhide rug, marble-top coffee table covered with art books and gallery catalogues are in sharp contrast to the two couples' far from civilized behaviour.
A Vancouver Civic Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production directed by Miles Potter, God of Carnage is billed as a comedy and it is funny in the same way Albee's play is: we laugh in shock at how thin the veneer of civility is. And there are some fine comedic performances here-especially Papavs in Annette's complete meltdown. Cassini's restrained performance strikes a very real, very welcome note in what otherwise slips sideways into farce.
But as the curtain falls on God of Carnage, one has to wonder if it's a comedy at all. With parents who behave like children, those two 11-year-olds have got about as much chance of surviving unscathed as the hamster that Henry's father unceremoniously dumps out of its cage on the roadside. Poor hamster. Poor Henry. Poor Benjamin.
Taken to another level-and surely the playwright wants us to go there, God of Carnage implies that if four apparently civilized adults are unable to resolve a little playground kerfuffle, how successful can we hope to be in resolving international conflict? Poor world.