THEATRE REVIEW: GOD OF CARNAGE
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
29 NOV 2013
TORONTO - Whether it’s a friend destroying an expensive piece of artwork, or, as is the case in GOD OF CARNAGE, a woman’s simple failure to ask for a washroom when she clearly has a pressing need of one, playwright Yasmina Reza asks her characters to behave in ways that stretch an audience’s credulity almost to the breaking point.
But if you can get past the excesses of Reza’s characters — and with the help of a good cast and a solid director, that is certainly possible - international award-winning productions of Art and GOD OF CARNAGE have shown that she’s written some good, even great theatre. And while Toronto audiences have enjoyed a few opportunities to see Reza’s Art, her 2008 GOD OF CARNAGE, which has played numerous other Canadian centres, is only now receiving its Toronto English-language première in a Studio 180 production, presented by David Mirvish at the Panasonic Theatre.
Translated by Christopher Hampton, who also translated Art, GOD OF CARNAGE is directed here by Joel Greenberg. On a high-style set — a living room in Brooklyn, all blood-red and white marble, created by designer John Thompson — it brings together two couples: Allen and Annette, played by John Bourgeois and Sarah Orenstein; Michael and Veronica, played by Tony Nappo and Linda Kash.
On the day prior to the opening scene, it seems the couples’ young sons have had a playground altercation, resulting in a few lost teeth and a lot of questions and recriminations. Summoned by Veronica and Michael, Allen and Annette have made the trek to the former’s Brooklyn home to discuss just what is to be done. It is, of course, all very civilized, at least on the surface, but not so slowly and certainly very surely, that surface begins to crack and mayhem ensues. As things get more and more out of control, a certain sense of humanity — these are all characters we know, although not ones we necessarily like — keeps things on track.
Or it should, but in staging the play, although he succeeds in drawing four fine performances from his players, Greenberg seems to have trouble deciding whether G OF C is a comedy with dramatic overtones, or a drama that spills over into black comedy. And in trying to play it both ways, he manages only to unbalance his production. Holding up the comedy end of things, Kash once again proves her impressive comedic chops, leaving it to an affably-centred Nappo, Bourgeois, and Orenstein (who must and does make the unthinkable almost rational in the process) to argue for the dramatic end of things. And frankly, theirs is the more compelling argument here.
In the end, played as a comedy, G OF C comes across as little more than a put-down of the kind of elites Ford Nation so despises. Played as a drama, however, it’s a blackly funny reminder that in the battle of nature over nurture, nature always holds the winning hand.