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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The play revolves around an evangelist, Cotton Slocum, played with sturm und drang by a thundering V.J. Foster, and his Charismatic Optimistic Pentacostal parishioners. As hypocritical as he is self-righteous, the passionate Slocum preaches fear: the Apocalypse, the Rapture, the End of The World. And teaches his timid acolyte, Tack (Justin Zsebe), to mimic his every move. Zsebe, just to keep things confusing, also plays the voice of a hand-puppet, a rabbit named Foo Foo. Don't ask.
There are also Robbins' trademarks: a band of armed soldiers running amok, a character wearing a full face mask for no apparent reason, and the Orwell-speak of religious fanatics. (As V.J. Foster, playing Colonel Hardchannel in Robbins' 2003 play, Embedded, said, "Hard facts are superfluous.")
The Reverend Slocum holds forth from his "church and theme park," God's Happy Acres, where his parishioners engage in weekend wars, pelting each other to the death with paint balls. "Incompetence is treason," Slocum tells them, inciting them to chant their mantra, "Destined to win!"
The first act ends with some kind of explosion at God's Happy Acres, just as Slocum, dressed as a Pilgrim, is about to take off on a pilgrimage (get it?) to Las Vegas. When the play resumes, he discovers that he, unlike his parishioners, has not been Raptured Up. Furious, he rails at God with "You're a helluva deity."
In the totally baffling second act, the players are dead, or hiding out underground, or something. Tack, in white-face, has taken over as leader, preaching hate and directing his white-faced and white-garbed parishioners into a "holy war for the heathen." He reveals his previous history: a stint in the Peace Corps, followed by time in the CIA, and a period in which he was captured and tortured. He is disillusioned, angry, and dangerous.
There are 12 actors in Carnage, many of them playing multiple parts. They are tightly directed by Beth F. Milles as they charge around Sybil Wickersheimer's nearly empty stage in the many costume changes designed by Alix Hester.
A married couple, Dot and Ralph (Stephanie Carrie and Chris Schultz), spend the second act trying to find the demolished church grounds. She is a wide-eyed believer; he is a drunk. Slocum, crazed and disoriented, is trying to find his disappeared wife, Tipper (Donna Jo Thorndale).
And I am trying to find a coherent message in all this. None of us succeeds in our quest though, according to Robbins and co-author Adam Simon, the idea is to address the question, "What happens when a radical religious agenda combines itself with military might?" Okay, I'll bite. What happens?
It isn't that I didn't get Carnage. I just don't think it's a comedy. Or a very good play.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide