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God of Carnage

(Left to right)                                                                                                       Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh, Dee Covington as Veronica Novack, and Erik Sandvold as Michael Novak
(L to R) Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh,
Dee Covington as Veronica Novack,
and Erik Sandvold as Michael Novak
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Curious Theatre Company's much anticipated regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning best play of 2009, Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, is everything it promised to be, unlike Reza's 1998 Tony Award-winning predecessor, Art. Perhaps it is even-handed excoriation of both sexes that makes God of Carnage such a clever farce, where Art, with its sexist male sterotypes (straight and gay), seemed deficient; but in any case, the laughs come easily, and predictability is nowhere to be found.

Two couples in a living room with a free flow of rum and some heated discussion may invite comparisons to Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, and indeed there are some genuine parallels, but (in hindsight) where Albee found drama in his perfect explication of dysfunction, Reza finds laughs—lots of them.

(Left to right) Timothy McCracken as Alan Raleigh, Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh, and Dee Coivington as Veronica Novak
(L to R) Timothy McCracken as Alan Raleigh,
Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh,
and Dee Coivington as Veronica Novak
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Ostensibly, the couples meet to discuss an altercation between their children, two 11-year old boys, but Reza offers a number of ways to beg grander interpretations, sprinkling the exchange with references to larger societal issues, such as the frauds of Big Pharma, the financial caste sytem, and the lies we tell our children.

Before Reza's brilliant ending, which wraps things up in one swift and deft fell swoop, political correctness—for better or for worse—is epitomized by Veronica Novak (Dee Covington), whose son, Henry, requires surgury to repair the damages from being attacked with a stick. The perpetrator, Benjamin, the son of Annette (Karen Slack) and Alan Releigh (Tim McCracken), was refused entry into Henry's gang. Henry's dad, Michael Novak (Erik Sandvold) feigns PC; yet, when push comes to shove, he showers us with platitudes of testosterone-induced paleolithic bravado.

(Left to right) Dee Covington as Veronica Novak and Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh
(L to R) Dee Covington as Veronica Novak
and Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Each of these four seasoned and consumately inventive actors provides a series of priceless moments via lilt and tone of voice, facial expression, and body language that amplify the unbridled and outrageous reaction they have to each other.

Covington's "concerned mother" persona takes us in, if only until Reza turns the tables on business as usual; while simultaneously, Slack drops Annette's logical pretenses and makes PMS and menopause look like walks in the park. McCracken—who lures us in with our own presumptuous assumptions that suggest we take Alan at face value, a corporate attorney devoid of right-brain functionality (a sociopath), then disabuses us of our knee-jerk reactions with a thoughtful, if still Y-chromosome challenged, but eloquent, raison d'etre. Sandvold's leap, however, pulls the rug on any remaining civility, until Slack does her best imitation of the final (flower infused) scene from the ballet Giselle, performed as if the dansers have forgotten their anti-psychotic medication.

Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh
Karen Slack as Annette Raleigh
Photo: Michael Ensminger
While the playwright, Reza, holds up a nearly perfectly reflective mirror to the moral ambiguities of bourgeois life, we wonder if she's been through the looking glass and could offer us more than the hyperbole of hypocrisy. One could argue that this is the French way—to deftly savage society without offering alternatives—but Victor Hugo and others disprove this characterization.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of God of Carnage runs through June 16th. For more information: 303-623-0524 or www.curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

 

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