‘God of Carnage’ is a civilized riot that delivers comic gold

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 4/5 Stars » Highly Recommended)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Yasmina Reza‘s God of Carnage is like an adult version of Lord of the Flies, but hella funnier. It is a Jerry Springer Show of the privileged elite.

The Raleigh’s and the Novak’s are nothing if not civilized. They are charming, educated New Yorkers with responsible lives and gracious manners.

The metaphorical island upon which they are shipwrecked is the Raleigh’s living room where the four have gathered to manage a crisis in the lives of their children. The Novak’s little boy has injured the Raleigh’s little boy in a playground altercation, resulting in two broken teeth and the possibility of oral surgery. The two sets of parents meet for a mid day discussion, planning how to proceed in a civilized manner. Supposedly.

It isn’t long before pressure starts to build. Michael Novak, a busy lawyer, does not want to be there but has been dragged in by his frustrated wife , Veronica, who demands he pay more attention to family matters. He is trying, but his constantly interrupting cell phone makes it difficult.

(from l to r) Stacy Ross as Veronica Novak, Remi Sandri as Michael Novak, Rachel Harker as Annette Raleigh and Warren David Keith as Alan Raleigh in Marin Theatre Company’s production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage”

The Raleigh’s are wonderfully reasonable in light of their son’s injury, but they too have some conflicts. Alan, for example, has disposed of his seven-year-old daughter’s hamster by abandoning it in the street, using his son’s injury and the hamster’s nocturnal noisiness as a handy excuse.

As conversation gets underway, these subterranean pressures begin to crack the polite surface in the subtle manner of the game of one upmanship played so expertly by white citizens of a certain class. It isn’t long before the cracks become fissures of Grand Canyon proportions.

As in ‘Lord of the Flies’, the savage behavior of the “islanders” is contrasted by a parallel story from the outside world. In Golding’s novel, it is the implication that the boys are the victims of a nuclear holocaust. In Reza’s play, we learn that Michael Novak represents a pharmaceutical company the executives of which have continued to market a medicine even after learning of serious and debilitating side effects which they have not disclosed. And Annette Raleigh is fascinated with the story of the Dafur massacre, about which she has written a book.

This could be the setup for a serious drama, but Reza spins it differently. As these gentle, civilized folk begin to use anything and everything that comes up as weapons to attack one another, their manners gradually deteriorate until we are witness to a three ring circus of bad behavior. The masks slip and the result is riotously funny and horrifying.

By the time Veronica has vomited up Annette’s lovely pastry all over the collectible art books on the coffee table (after which her husband remarks “puking seems to have perked you up”) and Michael has begun yelling “Fuck the hamster!” the veneer of charm is as extinct as the dodo. The ever more precipitous slide into savagery is comedy gold.

The four expert comic actors onstage obviously have a ball with this and so will you. God of Carnage continues through June 17 at Marin Theatre Company. For further information, click here.

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“God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Ryan Rilette. Scenic Designer: Nina Ball. Lighting Designer: Mike Palumbo. Costume Designer: Meg Neville. Composer & Sound Designer: Cliff Caruthers.

Veronica Novak: Stacy Ross. Alan Raleigh: Warren David Keith. Michael Novak: Remi Sandri. Annette Raleigh: Rachel Harker.

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