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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
God of Carnage
Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at Shakespeare & Co.'s Bernstein Theatre proves otherwise as the thin veneer of civility disappears rapidly when two sets of parents meet to discuss a playground contretemps.
The play was originally commissioned by Berliner Ensemble in 2006, performed in London, New York, Europe and Los Angeles and finally made into a less-than-stellar Roman Polanski film. It seems ever more resonant in this era of helicopter parents and personal entitlement.
The Shakespeare & Co. production under the taut direction of Regge Life is outstandingly funny and sobering in the hands of four gifted actors who have mined the text for every ridiculous example of human posturing and pretense. Its black humor is contagious as Reza gradually pulls back the layers of civilization from these humans who find themselves parents with animal-like protective instincts.
Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jonathan Croy are the hosts of the evening as Veronica and Michael Novak and a tad lower on the wealth scale than Allyn Burows and Kristin Wold as Alan and Annette Raleigh. Croy's phony bonhomie and Aspenlieder's officious moral carping are a masterful counterpart to Burrows' smug analytical coolness and Wold's repressed blond tigress. From the hospitable offers of coffee and clafoutis to the desperate swigging of rum, the night's seemingly dispassionate discussion of their children turns into the violence that lurks just under the surface in their hearts.
Aspenlieder's Veronica is a control freak out of control. Not able to leave well enough alone, she uses her self-righteous demands for apologies and for appropriate punishment to turn what was at first an agreement over bad behavior into a war over parental control and responsibility. She telegraphs her contempt and frustration in a wildly comical performance with tiny snivels and sighs until she finally has to let loose in a farcical free for all.
Croy's Michael attempts to be sophisticated and genial only to reveal his class-consciousness which finally boils over into a Neanderthal strip, literally and figuratively, down to his basic childhood bravado. Croy's masterful physical comedy creates a hapless Michael who just wants to smoke cigars, drink rum and live in peace but instead realizes that marriage is, “the most terrible ordeal God can inflict on you.”
Burrows' Alan is a pleasant but smarmy lawyer involved in a massive pharmaceutical cover up. His quiet probing and baiting are self- controlled as he creates the frigid persona of a highly successful manipulator high on the food chain. His cell phone constantly interrupts the night's proceedings making it obvious that his family is not the center of his existence much to the annoyance of Wold as his exasperated wife, Annette whose anxiety and tension literally explodes into the by now famous vomiting scene. Though the perfect wealth manager and blond trophy wife, as the evening warms up her hair comes down and Wold rocks the joint with her own hilarious stored-up venom.
At first the couples unite against each other squaring off in defense of their progeny as they argue over semantics, bullying gangs, apologies and even hamsters. But as the evening wears on their allegiances begin to disintegrate and the men reminisce about their own "boys will be boys" behavior. The wives, disgusted, move to thwart them and ultimately aided by great gulps of rum the marriages' rifts are exposed and blatant ferocious retaliation rears its ugly head.
Shades of Albee's Virginia Woolf! These two couples self-destruct over two kids who will probably eventually learn to unleash their animal instincts on squash courts or football fields. The plot is obvious but in the hands of four fabulous actors and their stage-wise director, we are convulsed in laughter as they melt down in a well- appointed Brooklyn living room, artistically arranged with just the right coffee table books and fresh tulips.
The set by Devon Drohan lends itself to the ambience of a modern arena where class attitudes, corporate greed and family dynamics play out against the background of a cacophony of sirens, horns and other modern concrete jungle sounds, compliments of sound designer Amy Altadonna. The atmospheric lighting by James Bilnoski underscores the transition from a cooly civilized conference to intensely heated confrontation.
Costumes by Charlotte Palmer-Lane are tailored to each character's persona from Brooks Brothers sartorial splendor to stylish city casual. In this case the clothes do not make the man or woman as they snarlingly shed their well-constructed masks and destroy vestiges of art and themselves to reveal the immediacy of primal self-interest.
Director Life, the actors and creative team have created a collaborative production of powerful comedic artistry. And the clafoutis recipe sounds promising.
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God of Carnage
By Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Regge Life
Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Veronica Novak) Allyn Burrows (Alan Raleigh) Jonathan Croy (Michael Novak) Kristin Wold (Annette Raleigh)
Scene design: Devon Drohan
Costume design: Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Lighting design: James W. Bilnoski
Sound design: Amy Altadonna
Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly
Running Time: ninety minutes; no intermission
Shakespeare & Co., Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox MA
From 9/14/17; closing 10/8/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at September 16 performance
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