Review: Beyond August Productions' God of Carnage

A good play about bad behavior, made even better by a great production

(l-r) Jill Klopp Turner, Peter Young, Shannon Embry, and Chuck Winkler in Beyond August Productions' God of Carnage (photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

It's surprising how infrequently projectile vomiting works its way into a theatrical performance, considering how effective it is in Yasmina Reza's comedy of conflict, God of Carnage (Le Dieu du carnage), currently being staged by Beyond August Productions from Christopher Hampton's translation.

The international symbol for vulnerability and bad shellfish, a head in a bucket is a gag that just keeps on gagging, and the turning point in this play. It's when the gloves of civility initially worn by the play's four characters come off, the boundaries of proper public behavior and protected privacy are crossed, and all niceties and restraint are purged, figuratively and actually.

Not since Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have well-educated adults shed their skin so completely and behaved so badly. But while Albee's two couples are purely tragic, Reza's are savagely comic, made even more so by the brilliant performances of an all-in ensemble and director Robyn Conner's attention to detail.

At the top of the play, we learn that Alan (Chuck Winkler) and Annette (Shannon Embry) Raleigh's 11-year-old son has hit Michael (Peter Young) and Veronica (Jill Klopp Turner) Novak's 11-year-old son with a stick while playing at the park, breaking two of his incisors. The self-absorbed, affluent fortysomethings have gathered in the Novaks' tastefully appointed living room to discuss, logically and amiably, how best to deal with the boys. The living room, designed by Michael Stuart and lit by Casey Prowell, foreshadows the conflict to come, what with its dramatic clash of classical and modern decor.

Not wanting to get "stuck down some emotional cul-de-sac," Veronica takes the high road and notes that "there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, isn't there?" when discussing how best to address the boys' violent encounter. Yes, there is, but not for very long. Soon the couples nitpick over words ("So, clafoutis, is it a cake or a tart?") and how to define the assault ("armed," after some discussion, is replaced by "furnished"). They then disagree on what constitutes proper parenting and begin arguing over what their children should do to right the great wrong.

Awkwardness turns into tension (a recurring theme in 'Art' and Life x 3 [Trois versions de la vie], Reza's other explorations into the perils of friendship and marriage), tension escalates to agitation, and agitation leads to Annette's head in a bucket. And then things turn ugly. When alcohol is added to the couples' already dysfunctional dynamic, vicious instincts begin trumping intellect and inhibition, primal behaviors overrule social norms, and soused self-righteousness supersedes everything.

The changing emotions, shifting loyalties, and physical comedy found in this play become a form of dance when executed by these four talented performers. While they are wonderful throughout the production, each actor manages to mine a particularly comedic moment in the script that helps define their unlikable character and makes them relatable. Young's comes at the cost of the Novak family hamster, when Michael casually explains the creature's untimely demise at his hands. Winkler's moment occurs when his all-business-all-the-time Alan connects with Michael's Neanderthal tendencies and the two form a short-lived alliance. Turner and Embry are at their best when their characters, on the outer edge of inebriation, attack their husbands' respective complicity and indifference.

The only misstep in this production is director Conner's decision to turn Reza's one-act play into two acts. While this may provide welcome relief for audience members who have not yet found their post-pandemic sea legs, it disrupts the momentum so carefully built into the script as well as the tension so effectively garnered onstage. Oh, and a designated splash zone would have been a grand idea.

Beyond August Productions' God of Carnage
The Rosette Theater, 3908 Avenue B
Through Aug. 13
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.

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Beyond August Productions, Rosette Theater, God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza, Chuck Winkler, Robyn Conner, Shannon Embry, Peter Young, Jill Klopp Turner, Michael Stuart, Casey Prowell, Christopher Hampton

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