The internationally acclaimed God of Carnage is possibly the most unique theatrical offering that I have seen at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater. The dark farcical comedy makes for uproarious pandemonium and laughter, and the audience (myself included) simply loved it. It is so good that you might want to see it more than once.
French playwright Yasmina Reza hones in on one of the universal fears of parenthood—that your child will be hurt by, or might hurt, another child. The play, originally written in Reza’s native tongue and translated into English by Christopher Hampton, has captured the imagination of theatergoers around the world.
After its debut performance in 2006, God of Carnage made its way to London where it received the Olivier Award for Best New Play of the Year. Its 2009 stint on Broadway boasting a stellar cast, including James Gandolfini, garnered three Tony Awards. Since then, it has graced stages in Spain, Ireland, Serbia and Croatia, to name a few.
The play is set in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. After another boy breaks two of their 11-year-old son’s teeth during a playground brawl, Veronica and Michael go where angels fear by inviting the parents of aggressor to their home to discuss the incident. Although we never meet the boys, Henry and Benjamin, whose antics ignite the fuse, it is the parents who entertain us with their unexpected emotional explosions.
This unlikely rendezvous is the brainchild of Veronica, an art aficionado with a forthcoming book on the Darfur. Her husband, Michael, is a wholesale distributor of household goods. The other set of parents are Alan, a well-to-do lawyer with international clientele and Annette, who simply says that she is into wealth management.
It all starts out with polite, amicable conversation in Veronica and Michael’s posh living room. In the name of peaceful coexistence, mouthwatering clafouti, a fruity French dessert, is served and expensive yellow tulips adorn vases.
Yet these niceties cannot mask the fact that the couples are understandably very wary of each other and looking for holes in each others’ polished façades. The best laid plans go horribly astray as the meeting progresses and at a delightfully dizzying pace.
It seems that no clafouti, no matter how delicious, can pacify the god of carnage, whom Alan explains has reigned supreme since the dawn of time and unleashes our basest and most primitive instincts.
Alan turns out to be right. In short order, the thin veil of civility is pierced, and the couples are at each other’s throats. Reza’s script is replete with clever, hilarious surprises and shifting marital allegiances that animate the set, especially after a bottle of primo rum is uncorked. Kudos to Richard Dolce for his impeccable directing of this talented cast whose performances requires split second comedic timing. This is ensemble work at its best.
Which is the funniest scenario? I’ll hint at them. Who had done a hamster wrong? What happens after Annette—understandably a bundle of nerves—upchucks on a collection of Veronica’s treasured coffee table books displayed like window dressing in the living room? How do the characters change after imbibing that primo rum?
Nancy Lemenager is ideal as the highbrow art lover who has unrealistic expectations about human nature and does not recognize a highly combustible situation when she sees one. Mickey Solis is hilarious as Michael, Veronica’s polar opposite, a man who proudly announces that he is “not a member of polite society,” but rather a Neanderthal.
Alan (Chris Kipiniak) skillfully fits the bill as the prototypical lawyer who is welded to his cell phone and more concerned with advising a pharmaceutical company on their defense against charges of a dangerous drug than dealing with his son’s conduct. His wife, Annette (Alet Taylor), who first appears to be the most restrained of the foursome, is emboldened and comes out fighting after some of that rum enters her system. It made for some very funny and feel-good moments.
Stephen Dobay’s set—decorated with the minimalist flair—makes it the perfect venue for maximal action. Showcased is a large-scale wooden sculpture created from found objects à la Louise Nevelson, one of the most influential and distinguished sculptors of the 20th century. Painted a monochromatic dark gray, the disparate pieces that compose the sculpture become unified textural content. Splashes of red, white and black further enliven the room’s décor.
It is pure eye candy. Bravo, Mr. Dobay!
God of Carnage runs through March 6. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 250 Main St, Northport, by calling 261-2900 or by visiting engemantheater.com.
Photo credit from left to right: The performances of Nancy Lemenager, Mickey Solis, Alet Taylor, and Chris Kipiniak make for uproarious pandemonium in the Engeman Theater’s production of God of Carnage (Photo by Michael DeCristofaro).