‘God of Carnage’ is bloody terrific at Purple Rose
CHELSEA, Mich.–It’s easy to find laughs in Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. After all, watching four middle-aged parents dismember one another over a schoolyard tussle between their 11-year old boys in which one got a couple of teeth knocked out lends itself to a few laughs when two sets of parents get together to meet about it like it’s worthy of a United Nations session.
The humor comes in the form of facial expressions engineered by four terrific actors delivering this play at The Purple Rose Theatre, as well as the laughs we can derive from seeing glimpses of truth in ourselves and people we know well from the office or on our blocks–if in fact we know the people on our block any more.
The plot of God of Carnage is almost non-existent. What is in front of the audience, and gripping for the brief 70 minute play is tremendous writing and stage rhythm about a situation that speaks to the daily play called marriage and parenting in which many of us star. We are watching the sausage of marriage being made.
The setting is Brooklyn, New York, and Michael (Paul Stroili) and his wife, Veronica (Michell Mountain) are hosting Alan (Rusty Mewha) and Annette (Kate Thomsen) whose son whacked their son with a stick, inflicting an injury and the need for dental work. Paul is a wholesaler of doorknobs, toilet fixtures and other hardware, while Veronica is dilettante bleeding heart working on a book about Darfur. Alan is a high-powered globe-trotting lawyer constantly taking cell-phone calls about limiting liability for a Big Pharma client over an iffy drug causing some problems for some patients. Annette is a somewhat fragile flower prone to panic attacks and generally feeling lost in the obnoxious shadow of the husband she has chosen to have children with based more on his resume than his seemingly non-existent heart.
The at-times toxic banter that ricochets around the stage and what is Michael and Veronica’s living room seems terribly reminiscent of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–only the situation and opportunities to snicker at it are more plentiful here.
And as another critic writing about this play wrote once: There is a “cathartic release of watching other people’s marriages go… boom!.”
Michelle Mountain is spot on as the at-times heaving self-hugging mother of the afflicted kid who was “disfigured.” She wants the aggressor’s parents to see the dental x-rays, and she wants them to meet and make peace but only if the other kid really means it. Paul Stroili as Michael is terrific as the self proclaimed neanderthal who likes his rum and occasional Cuban cigar and is utterly unapologetic for being responsible for the likely death of his daughter’s hamster, “Nibbles.” It’s hard to see what he and Veronica actually have in common, but that is the point. Rusty Mewha is wound tight as Alan, and as a father who has outsourced most or all of nurturing of the aggressive kid to his wife. Kate Thomsen gets a lot of the peak scenes in this play thanks to the author and she does great when she is running with the ball. She is sad and funny throughout, and manages the balance without falling down once.
Mostly what God of Carnage has going for it is the ensemble work and chemistry of these actors delivering on great material, nurtured along beautifully by director Lauren Knox. The four have to be in sync for this short, rapid fire play, which does not have to be a minute longer to feel utterly complete. And it is a delicious thing to see.