BWW Reviews: GOD OF CARNAGE a Strong Showing to Open New Space for MMT
"God of Carnage," the newest production from Mixed Magic Theatre, is the perfect way to christen the company's new space in Lorraine Mills. The space itself is smaller than their old one in the Hope Artiste Village, but is deceptively large: the seating, which is raked in a near-stadium style fashion, goes back a few more rows than you might expect possible, upon first impression.
The play, written by Yasmina Reza, won the 2009 Tony for Best Play, beating out plays by such powerhouse playwrights as Horton Foote, Neil Labute, and Moises Kaufman. It was hugely popular on Broadway, running for almost a year, with such actors as James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Maria Gay Harden, Jimmy Smits, Janet McTeer, and Lucy Liu. Soon after, Roman Polanksi adapted it into a film, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Jon C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz-though the film adaptation was markedly less well-received.
At the top of the play, two wealthy couples, Alan and Annette Raleigh (Amos Hamrick and Hannah Lum) and Michael and Veronica Novak (Tom Chace and Christina Wolfskehl), meet to resolve the circumstances surrounding a fight between their two 11 year-old sons, which left one boy with dental damage and the other with no remorse. Ostensibly, the plot is about these couples getting to the bottom of what happened, but it becomes clear rather quickly that it has much more to do with the couples' own inability to mediate conflict without resorting to cheap insults and petty violence.
The script has some inherent problems. The first ten minutes of the play is dominated by awkward silences that appropriately set the mood, but unfortunately deaden the pacing of the play, and the middle third centers mainly around a vomit special effect that works well here but causes the action to come to bit of a standstill. Most infuriatingly, there's an excessive amount of phone calls which are demonstratively annoying to the other characters on stage, but are equally annoying to the audience themselves. Thankfully, there's a wonderful payoff to all those phone calls, but it comes about 3 calls too late. Despite these traps, though, Director Rich Morra does a wonderful job of keeping the action barreling forward. We may never get resolution to some of the key plot points, namely the cause of the playground fight in question, but somehow we get the feeling that it really doesn't matter.
The acting here is superb, all around. As Alan, Hamrick does a great job of staying on the outside of the fight, delivering barbs across the room at all participants, including his wife, with ease. He has a matter-of-fact way of offending the other characters that was a joy to watch, both in delivery, and in the reactions from fellow cast-mates. Speaking of reaction, Hannah Lum relishes in playing the spectator. Annette is possibly the least "active" character (her only real contributions to the plot involve the aforementioned vomit-gag and the ever-present desire to wrap up this awkward meeting), and yet Lum is eminently watchable. She conveys complex thoughts very clearly, even when not saying a word, and her slow descent into drunkenness during the second half the play is reminiscent of Honey in "Virginia Woolf": all fun and games until she snaps.
The Novaks both bring a kind of understated rancor to their roles. As Michael, Tom Chace deftly portrays a seething, self-professed Neanderthal masquerading, to his own disdain, as a liberal. His transformation towards the second half of the play is not so much a descent as a hairpin turn into nastiness, and it's delightful. As his wife Veronica, Christina Wolfskehl has probably the most interesting role in the play. Veronica is a complex woman with scattered intentions, and Wolfskehl is able to spend the majority of the production delivering pretentious near-insults with just enough of a hospitable smile that neither the audience nor her adversaries are completely aware of her contempt until she lets just about everyone in the room have it, in spectacular fashion.
Of special note, as well, are the bonds formed between the sexes during this rapid-fire show. As arguments form and fall apart under their own weight, the men and women often gravitate towards each other, rather than their spouses, leading so some fascinating role-reversals and camaraderie between the two men and two women. This is highlighted by some excellent and subtle direction by Morra, framing the men stage right and the women stage left as they square off.
The Set Design and Decoration by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is also a highlight, with leather couches, glass tables, and accent pieces laid up against vibrant orange and red backgrounds. It's somewhere between a naturalistic luxury home and a surrealistic representation of Veronica's mind: all bold, hostile colors and an overabundance of African artwork to support her possibly misguided passion for the genocide in Darfur.
If you've never seen "God of Carnage," this production is the one to see. If you've already seen it and you're skeptical of some of the same inherent problems that I was, this production is still one to see: they solve them all brilliantly, and the interplay between these four actors is free and easy. They're clearly having fun up there, and so will you.
"God of Carnage," by Yasmina Reza, runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3:00, through May 18th, at Mixed Magic Theatre's new space at 560 Mineral Spring Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. For ticket information, visit www.mmtri.com.