Friday, July 08, 2011

'God of Carnage' pulls no punches

“God of Carnage,” M&D Productions' latest production, which opened Thursday, July 7, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is running Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, is an honest, authentic look at how a civil discussion can collapse into a frothing-at the-mouth argument.
Writer Yasmina Reza's play is simple enough on the surface. Two sets of affluent parents meet under the best of intentions to discuss a violent act that occurred between their two young boys. Veronica and Michael Novac's (Christine Thompson and David Freeman) boy lost two teeth in the altercation, but they see themselves as being the bigger people by inviting Annette and Alan Raleigh (Elaine Kondrat and Rob Clark) over to have a peaceful discussion.
What starts of as an awkward, uneasy exchange de-evolves into a screaming match as the underbelly of both seemingly perfect couples gets exposed. Under their high class facades they are no more above the base actions they gathered to chastise their boys for participating in. 
Reza script is very finely constructed. Essentially we have a 90-minute argument, which, if written poorly, could become shrill and one-note, but shifting allegiances keep things interesting. It would be easy to simply have the two sets of parents remain united fronts, but at any given time the sides will split along gender lines, ideological beliefs or who is submissive and dominant in the respective relationships.
There is much discussion by the parents of what it means to bully someone and how to punish the bully. As the evening progresses, we see, though, how the more dominant spouses browbeat their significant others and how disagreements escalate to things being thrown.
Veronica has a holier-than-attitude as she thinks she is a better, more caring human being because she's writing a book about the atrocities in Darfur although she's never been there herself. Her true colors shine through when she starts going on about how Western civilization is above that sort of savage behavior and yet she's the first to resort to violence.
Thompson is exceptional in this role. Cold, stiff and full of a bitter anger that she tries to control, but ultimately can't. Veronica is not likable and Thompson embraces that and doesn't attempt to soften her at all. It is an intense performance and a true sign of her talents as an actress.
Clark, stepping out of his usual nice guy persona as seen in such productions as Arts in Motion's “Almost, Maine” and “Ordinary People” and M&D's “California Suite,” is fantastic as a boorish lawyer who is constantly on his cell phone.
It is Clark's rude behavior as Alan that starts sending things down hill. He makes no attempt to hide his disdain for this little meeting. In addition to constantly being on his phone, he refuses to play along with Veronica's let's-play-nice attitude, especially when she starts offering condescending parenting advice.
Alan and Veronica are clearly the more dominant personas in their relationships. Annette is literally sickened by his behavior. Kondrat is good as Annette. She plays her as sweet, but when she is pushed into a corner she lashes out. Freedman plays Michael as a passive neurotic, who is constantly trying to play peacekeeper. He switches sides and attempts to defuse the situation, which only infuriates his wife.
The set designed by Mark DeLancey is urban, modern and sophisticated and is in stark contrast with the brutish behaviors that arise. The centerpiece of the set is a blood red painting with violent slash marks. It seems out of place with the rest of the slick décor. As the show progresses it becomes a more accurate reflection of its surrounding.
Director Heather Elise Hamilton keeps the show loose, perhaps too much so as the argument ratchets up toward the end, but the pace and tone she finds fit the free-flowing structure of the dialogue. The writing, much like an actual conversation, goes off on tangent only to circle back to subject later. 
This is an excellent and well performed piece of theater. It is unsettling and leaves the audience on edge but is also savagely funny and will lead to some lively discussion — just hopefully not as vehement as the discourse on stage.
Call the box office at 662-7591 for tickets.

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