BWW Reviews: Dark Comedy GOD OF CARNAGE Slays in La Mirada
As the lights fade up to reveal a gorgeously-appointed luxe Brooklyn living room filled with accoutrements from a life well-lived (including various knick-knacks from travels abroad that, of course, hang neatly like art gallery installations), the opening scene of French playwright Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning play GOD OF CARNAGE sets up a serene and rather cordial conference between two pairs of well-to-do parents. Clearly uncomfortable in each others' presence, yet still forging ahead with their mutually-feigned diplomacy, each married couple have reluctantly agreed to come together to discuss the specifics of a rather nasty school yard altercation between their respective 11-year-old sons that occurred earlier that day.
As scenes go, it seems pretty ordinary enough. But, as it turns out---in increasingly hilarious results---these polite pleasantries don't last for long.
In actuality, all this graciousness and congeniality are merely a subtly-obscured smokescreen for their true feelings of anger, resentment, and loathing that are all just bubbling to a boil underneath their pretend smiles. And as the evening further progresses---and for the audiences' laugh-filled benefit---the foursome engage in a succession of increasingly ridiculous arguments which become so irrational and unfiltered, that they themselves eventually rumble like the little children they were originally trying to mediate.
To borrow a tagline from the long-running reality TV series The Real World, the wickedly amusing GOD OF CARNAGE shows exactly "what happens when people stop being polite... and start getting real." Well, at least, "real" in a comically over-the-top way, that is.
This outrageous farce---directed by Michael Arabian and featuring some top-notch, gusto-tinged performances from its four-person cast---continues its regional Southland performances at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts through February 16.
Translated by Christopher Hampton from its French origins for the London and Broadway productions, the witty yet surprisingly rioutous GOD OF CARNAGE forces two affluent Alpha couples to come together in a tense-filled meeting neither pair wants, but civilized living certainly dictates. On one side of the divide is power-suited couple Alan (Jamison Jones), a smarmy "big-pharma" lawyer and his uptight wife Annette (Amy Sloan), whose obscure career has something to do with "wealth management." They're here visiting the high-priced home of wholesale goods peddler Michael (Hugo Armstrong) and his control-freak author wife Veronica (Maura Vincent) who is currently homebound writing her latest book, this time about the struggles of the people in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur.
While Michael and Hugo have clearly gone out of their way to welcome their visitors like gracious hosts (the specially-purchased fresh tulips and their exotic dessert offering both serve to impress and entice), Alan and Annette would rather be anywhere but here.
Unfortunately, there is much to discuss. The topic at hand: earlier in the day, Benjamin---Alan and Annette's son---has an argument with Henry---Michael and Veronica's son---because Henry refused Benjamin's request to join Henry's "gang." The refusal angered Benjamin enough to hit Henry violently with a stick, knocking out two of Henry's teeth. With their impromptu meeting, both sets of parents hope to come to a fair resolution to the conflict (even though, ahem, one child required stitches).
But, alas, when you get two couples with such strong, opinionated personalities together---all vying for dominance and bragging rights---any kind of mutually agreed resolution seems far-fetched. As their unyielding tête-à-tête stretches into the night, the gloves start to come off and comments turn more personal and, well, ugly. Pretty soon, what started as restrained annoyance soon degenerates into full-on, on-the-floor brawls peppered with cringe-inducing insults and even prejudicial statements.
Yikes. So, uh... these are grown folks, right?