Vicki Paris Goodman
By all accounts, International City Theatre staged quite a coup acquiring the rights to God of Carnage, playwright Yasmina Reza’s homage to “adults behaving badly,” which is, by the way, the theme of ICT’s entire 2012 season.
Consequently, the Tony Award-winning Broadway smash-hit comedy takes the stage encumbered by impossibly high expectations. And it lives up to some of them.
Certainly, ICT’s caryn desai [sic] has worked her usual magic with casting, staging and, in this case, directing the production. She even told me that she had never before received such an enormous response to a casting call. Quite a statement given ICT’s outstanding reputation and 27-year history.
But God of Carnage, for all its hype, evokes a sense that we’ve seen it before. It’s the generic play of the ‘80s or ‘90s– that pop psychology examination of societal stereotypes that fascinated us back then but seems almost embarrassingly passé in 2012.
Here the stereotypes are personified by the parents of two 11-year-old boys, one of whom has struck the other with a stick during a schoolyard scuffle. The defenseless victim has acquired two broken teeth. The victim’s parents require some sort of compensation or closure and are determined to confront the parents of their son’s attacker.
With barely a nod to maturity and a mere hat tip to civility, the two couples meet at the victim’s home to discuss the unfortunate incident. Never mind that the victim’s mother, Veronica (Leslie Stevens), bitterly maintains a hidden agenda whose secret status was never long for this world. Passive aggression becomes her as she regales her new acquaintenances with just the right references to history, current best-sellers, and politics, while alternately playing judge, jury, and gracious hostess with nary a page break.
Conversely, Veronica’s husband Michael (Greg Derelian) makes futile attempts to diffuse the mounting tension, as if subscribing to the mantra “Can’t we all pleeze just get along?” Derelian’s Michael is the incarnation of Ray’s brother Robert on TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond– a likable and oafishly well-meaning regular guy. When pushed far enough, however, Michael’s manners melt like ice on a sidewalk in summer.
Given Veronica’s “bias,” the invitation to poor Annette (Alet Taylor) and Alan (David Nevell), parents of the perp, amounts to what can only be described as entrapment. No matter, as we soon find out they can hold their own.
The affable Annette doesn’t break easily. But in a surprisingly graphic scene, she does (actually) toss her cookies. She does! Some of us articulate our anger; I suppose others propel it. Alan, on the other hand, is the stereoypical emotionally detached business exec. The only thing with which he has an intimate relationship is his cell phone.
What I liked about God of Carnage was the ebb and flow of the characters’ loss and regaining of self-control. It revealed humanity’s true-to-life occasional tendency to inappropriately express itself followed by a guilt-induced attempt to repent. What I found maddening was the script’s dazzling omission– that Veronica and Michael never state what exactly they want from Annette and Alan, and Annette and Alan never ask. A glaring, if not fatal, flaw.
And of course, there is the ever-annoying and gratuitous, but evidently requisite, bashing of pharmaceutical companies, conservatives, capitalism and the profit motive. Just what we need, given where that sentiment has gotten us.
One highly satisfying moment occurred at the end of the play when the heretofore sensitivity-challenged Alan picked up the tulips– which had been forcefully ejected from their vase in a fit of pique– in order to return them to the vase, and then placed his hand lovingly on his distraught wife’s shoulder. I felt something at that moment. More moments like that might have made God of Carnage much better.
Still, I found God of Carnage entertaining and its characters persuasive. The cast was nothing short of superb. At a scant 90 minutes with no intermission, it certainly doesn’t make unreasonable demands on its audience’s patience. And maybe, just maybe, patrons will enjoy a vicarious evening of theraputic emotional abandon. Thank goodness it’s only a play!
God of Carnage continues at International City Theatre through Feb. 19. Tickets are $44 for Friday and Saturday evening performances and for Sunday matinees; tickets are $37 for Thursday evening performances. Evening performances are at 8pm; Sunday matinees are at 2pm. ICT is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 East Ocean Blvd. Call (562) 436-4610 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at InternationalCityTheatre.org.