The light dims over the rising rows of purple velvet seats and the audience shifts their focus to the stage, where a living room that seems to spell “good taste” is waiting. A vase of white tulips, several books of art collections on a coffee table, and large abstract paintings in the background all add to the overall elegance and high class that the classical music in the background also conveys. However, as expectation builds and all hold their breath, waiting for the actors to enter the stage, the classical music is overlapped by the wild sounds of jungle drums and maracas. Then the actors take their places, the classical music resumes, and Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” begins. The struggle that began with the juxtaposed music continues through the dialogue as the four adult characters waver between civilized behavior and hostility. The play takes a bit long to pick up pace, but once it does, it is a witty, laugh-out-loud comedy about men and women, John Wayne and Jane Fonda, hormones, civilization, and neanderthals.
Translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton, International City Theatre’s production of “God of Carnage” is directed by caryn desai. desai, who apparently doesn’t “do” capitalization, is also the theatre’s new artistic director and has put together the 2012 season around the theme of “Adults Behaving Badly... unless they Ain’t.” And adults certainly do behave badly in “God of Carnage,” which has won Tony and Olivier Awards and was adapted into a film by Roman Polanski just this past year. Two upper-class New York couples meet in an attempt to peacefully discuss the implications of a playground quarrel that transpired between their sons, in which one boy hit the other boy with a stick. However, the conversation quickly deteriorates into angry accusations, bitter brawls, and tearful tantrums. While the entire play is contained in the living room of a New York apartment, there is rarely a dull moment what with all the shouting, crying, puking, phone-ringing, rum-drinking, blow-drying and cigar-smoking.
The four adults were played by Greg Derelian, David Nevell, Leslie Stevens and Alet Taylor, all of whom performed beautifully throughout the play. Taylor, playing Annette, the mother of the offending child, and who works in “wealth management," felt somewhat awkward at the start of the play. She seemed to have stumbled on several lines and generally was not working well with the comedic timing that the play required. However, as the show picked up and her role became more dramatic, she won back whatever ground she had lost with a hilarious performance. Stevens, on the other hand, who portrayed Veronica, the mother of the injured child, was, both as a character and actor, consistently outstanding. She is the one who “stands up for civilization” and is a “supporter of peace and harmony” as the polite conversation falls apart. While she also submits to the impulses of human nature and participates in the name-calling and petty retaliation, she refuses to admit her natural human inclination towards chaos and hostility, insisting that she is the only civilized person among primitive beings. The men, on the other hand, are more honest with themselves. Alan (David Nevell), Annette’s husband and a big-shot lawyer, admits openly that he has “no manners” as he repeatedly answers his cellphone mid-conversation. He serves as Veronica’s foil, and alludes to the play’s title when he states that he “believes in the God of Carnage. He has ruled since the dawn of time.” Nevell was perhaps the most unremarkable of the actors, but he performed his role satisfyingly and gained many laughs from the crowd. Finally, Greg Derelian was hilarious as Michael, Veronica’s husband. Midway through the play, he admits that, unlike the liberal demeanor his wife had made him maintain throughout the meeting, he is, in fact, “a neanderthal.” The four of them have excellent chemistry and the blocking of the play serves a critical role as their proxemic patterns intensify their current alliances with the rest of the characters. For a play that relies so heavily on the portrayal of its characters, the actors certainly stepped up to the task.
Overall, ICT’s production of “God of Carnage” guarantees—despite its slow start—a night filled with laughter and contemplation on the struggle between civilization and chaos, between the classical music and jungle drums.
Reach staff reporter Sara Itkis here.