BWW Review: Vivid Theatre Productions Starts Things off on the Right Foot with Yasmina Reza's Brilliant GOD OF CARNAGE
"I am not a member of polite society. All I am is a f**king Neanderthal." --A key line from GOD OF CARNAGE
I'll say one thing for Drew Eberhard and the newest theatrical company to grace our area, Vivid Theatre Productions: They're starting things off right. Eberhard, a local Renaissance Man, has decided to launch his company with the production of GOD OF CARNAGE, Yasmina Reza's brilliant play, at Stageworks. This shows where Eberhard wants to go with his company, to truly create "something honest, sincere, and thought-provoking," according to the mission statement. "Through this and every aspect we allow our audiences to be not only engaged, but also immersed in the true magic and art form of theatre, through which we can truly experience every facet of the human condition."
I hold my breath when I see first shows of new theatre companies; I worry that, if it tanks, they will have nowhere to go. And what do I, your humble reviewer, do when it's just rancid and I have to review it? Be honest, of course. Which is why I am happy to report that the first production of Vivid Theatre Company is a damn good one.
GOD OF CARNAGE, strongly directed by Eberhard, tells the story of a well-to-do couple--Alan and Annette Raleigh--who are dealing with the repercussions of their son hitting another kid in the face with a stick, "temporarily disfiguring" him. The other kid's parents--Michael and Veronica Novak--have invited the Raleigh's over to their decorated Brooklyn apartment to discuss the incident. What follows is one of the funniest, most incisive scripts of the past ten or so years. With its warring couples, its alcohol consumption to unmask real personalities, and psychological head games (sort of like chess meets Twister), the play reminds me of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the cell phone era. Things go bad quickly, and we laugh and wince in awe at the barbaric nature of these two civilized couples. Which brings us to the shows meaning--that no matter how much art we may have, or Cuban cigars, or expensive rum, modern men and women are not better, no more evolved than Neanderthals.
The cast is sensational, featuring a couple of familiar faces as well as talented newbies to our area. Top of the list is Jason Ensor as Alan Raleigh, perhaps one of the more obnoxious people you will ever meet. Ensor plays him as a cocky, strutting, arrogant prick. He's quite animated, very theatrical, sometimes too theatrical for the intimate surroundings of the Stageworks stage (or at least the half of the stage being used). If you hate being distracted by people on their phones, then don't go anywhere near Alan. He's on his cell phone constantly, interrupting conversations, dealing with a work issue that he really cares about (rather than his bullying son). With his shoulders back, chest out, and donning a suit and tie, he is the type person you disdain at first glimpse. He's the kind of person who smiles as he watches a particularly bloody car wreck, bodies strewn on the side of the road. Here, his son is accused of disfiguring another kid, and he just smiles as he wolfs down an apple/pear dessert. Ensor's spot-on performance, every entitled asshole you ever met, is a treat. It also proves one point: I do not miss the era of flip-phones.
As Alan's wife, Annette, Rei Capote is equally strong. She is the most real of the four actors; we truly sense her getting further and further inebriated as the night goes on. The one thing I missed is the power of her big vomit scene. GOD OF CARNAGE is known for having one of the most monumentally horrendous and wet vomit scenes in theatre history, almost matching the Lardass blueberry pie Barf-O-Rama from Stand By Me. But you wouldn't know it with this production. Yes, she does vomit, and she plays her nauseous horrors well, but it is not the Vesuvius eruption that we have come to expect. It's like Singin' in the Rain with only a light drizzle.
Tynan C. Pruett and Eric Weber play the Novaks, and they match up well. Both are fiery, especially Pruett. Weber is sort of the anchor of the show, so often stuck in the middle of the various battles. His accent seemed all over the place at times. The key to their roles is what they are doing when it is not their lines; they are always in character, their fingers twiddling in discomfort, always in the moment. Great stuff.
I like how each of the couples are wearing matching colors (red for the Novaks, black and white for the Raleigh's). Only the ladies' shoes are switched in color. But it works. These aren't couples; these are two-person teams. And they are playing a no-holds-barred blood sport.
GOD OF CARNAGE is presented in One Act with no intermission. It's one of the fastest 70+ minutes I have experienced, yet it never feels rushed. It takes its time when necessary, and goes full-throttle psycho when it needs to. This is due to Eberhard's keen direction. He knows where and more importantly why the characters move when they do, and the pacing is tops. The set works for the small surroundings, complete with sectional couch, giraffe statues and paintings of elephants.
The pre-show music proved quite ironic, especially the use of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends."
GOD OF CARNAGE ends its run on Sunday, September 8th. Make sure to see it, to be a part of history, the birth of a notion. In the movie Capote, after Truman reads from In Cold Blood to an audience for the first time long before the book would be published, the crowd erupt in cheers. Capote knew he had a potential mega-hit on his hands, and William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, told Truman that the best thing to do is let the people do the publicity for him--let them talk about it, let the word of mouth spread. That's what I hope happens with Vivid Theatre Productions after GOD OF CARNAGE. Let the souls lucky enough to see it spread the word, and then word of mouth hopefully grows with each subsequent production. So that's what I am doing here; spreading the word. There is a new player in town. If you can see the last performance of GOD OF CARNAGE at Stageworks, then you must; if not, then don't miss their next show. They have the makings and the vision to be one hell of a strong theatre group!