God of Carnage | 10.12 – 11.6.11

While it is funny throughout, most of the laughs come from the oversized buffoonery of its four caricatures, and this is perhaps my biggest problem with the play.

 

 

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

God of Carnage comes to the Rep stage after a very high-profile run on Broadway with all-star casts. The play tells the story of two couples who meet to discuss the damage that the son of one of the couples—the Raleighs, Alan and Annette—has inflicted on the other—the Novaks, Michael and Veronica. The damage was a stick to the face of one of the boys which split a lip and loosened some teeth. While the concern, or lack of concern, fuels the opening moments of the play, it soon becomes evident that many underlying biases are at work on the couples. From the moment the Raleighs enter the Novak’s Brooklyn apartment, you are aware that these two couples would never have come together on their own. Alan Raleigh (Anthony Marble) is a lawyer for a big pharmaceutical company, while Michael Novak (Triney Sandoval) is a fixtures wholesaler. Neither are in any way poor, but their worths are not measured in the same way. The wives represent different worlds, as well, with Annette Raleigh (Susan Louise O’Connor) representing what Tom Wolfe called a "social X-ray." These are women who are both thin and rich; they form their own strata of New York society. Veronica (don’t call her Ronnie) Novak (Eva Kaminsky) is a social clamberer who is intent to impress but is thin of skin.

What the play seeks to show is the rapid breakdown in civility when modern parents are put to the test. The characters devolve over the intermissionless 90-minute play, from niceties about where tulips were bought and recipes to sniping away at the soft spots in each other. Suddenly, any weakness revealed is a weapon, and each character is only too willing to use them. The male characters are both revealed to be refined vulgarians, with Alan unable to disconnect himself from his cell phone and using it to show his absolute necessity and value. Michael reveals early on that he has released his daughter’s hamster into the "wild" of Brooklyn, and only realizes after he dumps it on the street that hamsters are as afraid of the wild as Michael is of touching a rodent. Throughout the play, this comes back to haunt him as he spends time defending his action and lying to his daughter about the hamster’s unlikely survival. The women are given no forgiving treatment, either, as their insecurities are rapidly revealed as the play progresses. Annette is conflict-resistant in both her marriage and with the Novaks, seeking to settle every bump in the road as quickly and quietly as possible until, at the crescendo of the play, her stomach steps in to give visual proof of her discontent all over the prized coffee table books of Veronica Novak. Veronica, who counter-balances the bravado and chest-thumping of Alan Raleigh, comes across as an angry, dissatisfied woman who realizes that her marriage and life don’t measure up, and that this is being revealed at the worst possible moment.

God of Carnage, which won a Tony in 2009, was written by the French playwright and actress Yasmina Reza and was translated by Christopher Hampton. While it is funny throughout, most of the laughs come from the oversized buffoonery of its four caricatures, and this is perhaps my biggest problem with the play. There is little depth to Reza’s depiction of the couples and, for the most part, I did not like any of them. They came in to the play almost fully unlikable and by the end of the play you are sure of your dislike. The play is an exercise in schadenfreude, and while I was supposed to take joy in this endevor, it only felt painful. Perhaps when this was on Broadway and allowed actors like James Gandolfini and Hope Davis to chew the scenery (as each of these roles allows), there was some reason to watch. In this case, we get to watch four very good actors go through the motions of tearing each other apart. We laugh, but we laugh with the growing realization that this farce offers no reprieve.

God of Carnage is meant to be sly social commentary about parenting in modern times. It also seeks to make comments about our inability to be adults due to the distractions in life, our immaturity and insecurities. While the play had some very funny lines, and the actors and director Edward Stern did a great job bringing them to stage, the play in the end offered much bittersweet hilarity. | Jim Dunn

God of Carnage runs through November 6 at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Tickets and further information can be found on their website, www.repstl.org

 

 

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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