BWW Reviews: GOD OF CARNAGE - An Unforgettable Wild Ride
Stark Naked Theater Company's production of Yasmina Reza's GOD OF CARNAGE, which was translated from its original French into English by Christopher Hampton, is one wild roller coaster of a ride that will leave audiences simultaneously speechless and breathless. Last night's opening night audience elicited the most real and completely guttural responses to the over-the-top, laugh a second show that I have ever had the pleasure to see and be a part of during a live theatre performance. Wild peals of laughter, squeals of horror, screams of delight, and ecstatic claps filled Studio 101 as the audience was steamrolled by sheer talent and majestic magnetism for the show's entire 85 minute run time.
Yasmina Reza's GOD OF CARNAGE, Chosen as Best Play for the 2009 Tony Awards, unfolds in real time. The setting is a modern day Brooklyn loft apartment. Two couples have come together to mitigate a playground fight between their young sons. The son of Alan, a big shot lawyer for pharmaceutical companies, and his wife Annette, a wealth manager, hit the other child with a large stick, which broke two incisors are exposed a nerve. The son of Veronica, a cultural anthropologist of sorts, author and art fanatic, and Michael, a self-made seller of domestic items, would not let the other boy play in his "gang," which initiated the quarrel. The two sets of parents attempt to civically and amicably discuss the ramifications and punishments associated with the incident. Annette ironically asks, "How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves" before the couples totally devolve to childlike hysterics and verbal battles that not only pit couple against couple but person against trio, men against women, and more.
Justin Doran's direction of the piece hits the ground running with a furious speed and never lets up. He ensures the opening lines are funny and engaging, instantly hooking the audience in and pulling them along for the non-stop, invigorating battles over semantics, overexposed emotionality, and trampled feelings. When interviewing the cast, they said that Justin Doran gave them a lot of room to explore and create characterizations on their own, which allowed them the opportunities to really test the waters with which moments thy would exaggerate beyond the realms of logical realism. This, in effect, was brilliant because every time the cast goes for broke it is both surprising and highly effective. The characters dissolve into a pastiche of educated adults with flaring, unbridled tempers that one might expect to see on Jerry Springer. Ultimately, Justin Doran and his cast's decisions confirm every ounce of truth in Alan's line, "Morality decrees we should control our impulses, but sometimes it's good not to."
Most importantly, this demanding show requires each actor cast to be superbly skilled at their craft. If any one person were weak, then the whole show would crumble and limp along. There is no one role that carries the show, making a quality presentation a true feat of ensemble chemistry and trust. As a team, Kim Tobin, Drake Simpson, Kay Allmand, and John Gremillion expertly cross lines of social appropriateness and chew scenery, leaving the audience laughing and reacting with riotously reckless abandon.
As Veronica, Kim Tobin is highly guarded and fastidiously hyper edits her thoughts to ensure that she phrases everything just the way she intends to be heard. This trait that forces her to suppress her true emotions also forces her to wear her heart on her sleeve. When she finally has had enough, the cork on her emotions and thoughts pops like a champagne bottle. Immediately, everything comes spewing out with no regard for social decency or decorum.
Drake Simpson is sumptuously sardonic as the self-made man who tries to act humble and modest. He initially represses his own ego, but soon allows it to battle Alan's. He verbally puffs out his chest and finds that he and Alan have more in common than they may have initially thought.
Kay Allmand's Annette is pristinely prim and proper with a distinctive air of social elitism. Her disgust for Veronica and Michael's home and life is palpable and telling. Likewise, her nerves get the best of her, allowing her to perform the show's most memorable and viscerally affecting explosions time and time again.
Alan, played by John Gremillion, is a complete but totally enjoyable jerk. He is constantly on his phone, showing how little he cares about actually being at the meeting. He constantly drops out of the conversation to handle his business, so when he rejoins it he is often at a different place than the other parties.
Set and Prop Design by Jodi Bobrovsky is phenomenal. It makes expert use of the space, and even utilizes the naturally industrial look of the performance space to make the setting that much more realistic and believable. The is the first show I have seen at Studio 101 that incorporates the inherent physical characteristics of the building, such as the windows near the ceiling, and it works beautifully for this production.
Chelsea Touchet's Lighting Design expertly showcases the cast in realistic lighting. The use of the yellow/orange light behind the fabricated windows to suggest the sun is a nice addition as well.
Sound Design by Michael Mullins is great. The sounds underscored of children on a playground for the two blackouts (opening and before curtain call) was a nice touch for those familiar with the plot devices. Likewise, the sound effect for the F Train is timed appropriately and believably seems to emanate from the correct location in the room.
Tiffani Fuller's Costume Design is spot on perfection. It pristinely informs the audience about of each character before they even have the chance to speak.
Kyle Cameron's Fight Choreography is immaculate. Every single one of the physical altercations, as they aren't full-fledged fights, looks realistic and appears to happen in the moment. It looks and feels unscripted, making it astonishingly unexpected for the audience every time.
Stark Naked Theatre Company has painstakingly ensured that every element of Yasmina Reza's GOD OF CARNAGE is in its proper place. The production is entirely engaging and sparkles with opulent charisma and talent from beginning to end. Add in the intimacy of Studio 101 and the audience feels like participants in the comedic drama. We cringe, duck, and laugh, never knowing what might come flying our way. As the adults on stage diminish into childlike animals, our own veneers of social decorum and appropriateness fantastically diminish. We laugh, clap, slap knees, and move in our seats, all without consideration. Luckily, everyone around us is reacting in the same way, and no judgment is passed.
Even though GOD OF CARNAGE recently played at the Alley Theatre, Houston audiences need to rush out and see this production. The intimate setting, the local talent on display, and the fantastically written play will leave audiences ecstatic beyond belief and they'll have truly cherished seeing this production, which runs through March 9, 2013 at Studio 101 in the Spring Street Studios. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.starknakedtheatre.com/ or call (832) 866 - 6514.
Also, arrive early and enjoy EXPOSED, a visual art exhibition curated by visual artist dianne k webb. The exhibit is presented in conjunction with Stark Naked Theatre and Spring Street Studios.
Photos by Gabriella Nissen. Courtesy of Stark Naked Theatre Company.
L to R: Drake Simpson as Michael, Kim Tobin as Veronica, John Gremillion as Alan & Kay Allmand as Annette.
Drake Simpson as Michael & Kim Tobin as Veronica
L to R: John Gremillion as Alan, Kay Allmand as Annette & Kim Tobin as Veronica.
L to R: Drake Simpson as Michael, John Gremillion as Alan, Kay Allmand as Annette & Kim Tobin as Veronica.