Monday, February 11, 2013
Theater review: With God of Carnage, Circle Theatre makes the most of a shallow script
Sure, the jokes are easy and obvious, but that doesn't make them any less true.
FORT WORTH Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, currently playing at Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre, has flooded American theaters since its Broadway debut in 2009, for which it won that year’s Tony for Best Play. That really isn’t a surprise considering its material. The play is an American audience’s dream, indulging all of our guilty viewing pleasures while giving us such pointed social commentary that it’s easy to feel smart during any discussion of the obvious themes that run throughout. It’s a candy version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — culturally relevant and ultimately relatable without making anyone feel too uncomfortable or think too hard. It provides all of the easy answers without really asking any of the tough questions. Director Robin Armstrong builds on the slight witticisms inherent in the script with plenty of physical comedy requiring strong comedic timing from her actors.
High powered couple Alan (Brad Stephens) and Annette (Leah Layman) have come to the home of artsy and liberal Michael (Mark Fickert) and Veronica (Lisa Fairchild) to discuss a playground altercation between their two sons. Alan and Annette’s son has hit Michael and Veronica’s son in the mouth with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. Very civilly and logically, they’ve gathered to decide what to do in the aftermath of the incident.
Michael and Veronica’s living room reflects their dueling roles as parents and high-minded intellectuals. The set by Clare Floyd DeVries and props by Meredith Hinton are well-thought out without being ostentatious, freeing the actors from competing with their set. They’ve mixed board games in with books on art and philosophy.
Calendars and reminder notes compete with African tribal masks for wall space, and four matching leather chairs around a large coffee table make sure all of the characters begin on equal ground.
Likewise, Armstrong’s costume choices are appropriate without attracting too much attention. Early on, each character is given its annoying stereotype, right down to what they’re wearing. There’s Michael, the ultimate “guy’s guy” in a literal blue, collared shirt, clearly nostalgic for the days when he led his own gang of children to playground mastery. His wife, Veronica, is the worst kind of bleeding heart liberal, clothed in a weird garment that was half poncho and half sweater.
She looked as though she was trying to take flight as she waved her arms around while espousing a belief in the “art of coexistence” and going on about the book she’s currently writing about Darfur. Annette, in her hose, heels, and conservative power suit, is wound so tightly she vibrates with stress, exacerbated in large part by her completely obnoxious high-powered attorney of a husband. Alan, in the midst of handling a PR crisis for his pharmaceutical company client, is the guy we all love to hate, whose vibrating cell phone interrupts conversation every five minutes, and who wears a pointless white scarf with his overcoat.
It doesn’t take long before things come to a boiling point. A snide insinuation, a defensive and cutting retort, and all four are off and running, leaving the rules of civility far behind. Reza pits everyone against everyone else: couple versus couple, men versus women, parents versus children, and a quickly-emptied bottle of ten year old rum against all four of them. No pretense or self-delusion is safe as the adults turn into children, throwing tantrums, playing keep away, and making blatant fun of each other. The show is full of deep and profound sounding lines like “Bravado is a kind of courage” and “The god of carnage has ruled since the dawn of time.” But in the end, there’s nothing really underneath the nastiness and mayhem, no truths uncovered, no new insight.
It’s just four upper middle class adults stripped of the veneers they’ve donned for the sake of their respective societal roles. It’s clever and funny at times, but ultimately unsatisfying and, running only 80 minutes sans intermission, still about fifteen minutes too long.
Even so, Armstrong and her cast do a respectable job with the material.
In particular, Stephens as Alan gives a commendable performance. It isn’t easy to make an audience both like and detest a character at the same time, but Stephens pulls it off. Though he is easily the most obnoxious character in the play, he is also the most honest. And Layman’s sense of comedic timing is to be admired. More physical comedy is required of Annette than any other character, and she holds nothing back. Her final tantrum was perfectly over the top and had the audience roaring.
And in the end, that’s what God of Carnage does best. It makes us laugh at each other and ourselves. Sure, the jokes are easy and obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less true.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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