God of Carnage at the Mirvish Panasonic Theatre

God of Carnage is by Yasmina Reza & Directed by Joel Greenberg. Part of the Studio 180 Off-Mirvish series at the Panasonic Theatre @ 651 Yonge Street.

I was front and center November 27th to see the God of Carnage to a full house on opening night. This award-winning (originally in French) play has enjoyed worldwide success in many different languages, debuting in English (translation by Christopher Hampton) in London’s West End in 2008.

The play centers on two married couples who are gathered in a living room and ready to discuss the matter of a one-sided scuffle between their respective sons. The hosts are aggrieved that their son has been the victim of a malicious playground assault by the son of the called-upon guests. (A deliberate stick-thwack to the mouth).

The progression of the plot progresses like a drop of water rapidly nearing the surface of an undisturbed pond – calm and untouched at first, but sent violently rippling upon contact. The initial conversations follow this calm and civilised manner, with coffee and snacks provided, however, this soon subsides into chaos and embarrassment for everyone involved.

John Bourgeois and Sarah Orenstein play Alan and Annette, the aggressor’s (Benjamin) parents, seen somewhat as a fly-by-night unit when it comes to parenting. Alan, a lawyer, is never off his mobile phone (into which he screams instructions mid-conversation), much to the ire of his wife and the rest of the assembly. Annette, seemingly timid at first, rapidly becomes one of the most boisterous and frenzied characters, particularly after imbibing a large portion of the rum; produced as a reaction to the perpetual rounds of debate – watch out for projectile vomiting.

Tony Nappo and Linda Kash (both in their Studio 180 debut) play Michael and Veronica, the beleaguered and not-so-subtle snarky parents of Henry, who has lost two teeth in the incident under discussion. Michael is the successful owner of a household goods company. Initially seeming to be a Liberal-minded fellow (not unlike his wife), he eventually reveals himself to be a disingenuous boor-cum-Neanderthal. The play charts his descent from seeming-tolerance to total intolerance, and garnering the mutual abhorrence of the group. Veronica is volatile, uptight and writing a book on Darfur. She is judgmental, a sympathiser and a hypocrite who doesn’t play well with others. She is the most obviously conceited and passive aggressive, who is consistently trying to push sugar-coated blame on Alan and Annette’s ‘obvious’ lack of moral judgement.

The overall feel of the play is of monumental instability; with one character seeming to side with the other, just to dash this all away in a flurry of harsh words the very next sentence. Yet, when the dullness and trite introductions collapse into pandemonium not all is not lost in the fray. There has been some room left for somewhat-subtle nuance, in the form of wandering philosophical vignettes from the characters. We are granted only brief flashes of humanity from them through this method; but the highly charged topics (racism, prejudice, homophobia) and surface level beliefs overrule any substance the characters were trying to prove of themselves. The result is a group of irrational, angry adults masquerading as children, huffing, puffing and establishing themselves as people you wouldn’t sit down for a beer with.

Joel Greenberg has done a great job of direction, managing to maintain structure in a play that ebbs and flows rapidly in pace and tone. The space on stage has been used to its fullest extent, allowing for many moments of slapstick and physical comedy.

While it is a play that has some clever moments, and Studio 180 has pulled off a great production, the play in itself falls short in being something that I connected with or had any profound kind of message to convey. Each actor held their own, but I couldn’t help feeling like a lot of it was too over-the-top for me to fully commit to. When the veils had fallen off each character, they may as well have been the same angry and cursing entity as far as I was concerned. It has some flashes of brilliance, but for me it was simply that – flashes. I would recommend it to someone looking for a chuckle, but don’t expect to come away from a deep and thought provoking experience.

Tickets available at the Mirvish website.

Keep an eye out early next year for Studio 180’s next production Cock by Mike Bartlett playing at The Theatre Centre 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto premiering early next April. 

Please #LOVELOCAL, it loves you.

Photo and Article by Graeme.

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