Friday, 16 March 2012

God of Carnage devastatingly funny

Veronica (Fiona Reid) gets ready to smack her husband Michael (Ric Reid) as Alan gets drawn into the fray in God of Carnage.
Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, running at the Citadel Theatre until April 1, beyond being a giddy evisceration of our culture's ideals about love, marriage and family, is a relentlessly hilarious farce.
Reza's Tony-award-winning play, translated from French by Christopher Hampton, begins with Alan (Ari Cohen) and Annette (Irene Poole) sitting in Veronica (Fiona Reed) and Michael's (Ric Reid) living room discussing how to resolve a conflict their sons have had at school. Alan and Annette's boy has bashed a couple of teeth out of Michael and Veronica's son's mouth with a stick, and all the parents can agree that such violence is unacceptable and that the perpetrator, whom Alan is prepared to concede is "a savage," should be made to acknowledge his transgression and probably make some amends to his school mate.
As the couples debate the moral issues and the parenting philosophies that bear upon the incident they're trying to resolve, the civility of the opening discussion gradually descends into a series of insults, recriminations, and eventually even a little light violence, all the while revealing that seemingly decent people, regardless of their good intentions and social conditioning, can become, in one way or another, devotees of The God of Carnage.
As the meeting unfolds, Annette gets woozy and pukes her guts out all over her hosts' carpet and one of Veronica's prized possessions. Ric Reid's vigorous work with a dustbuster and a hairdryer cashes in on the comic currency of the vomit gag terrifically. Fiona Reid's obsessing over her vomit-saturated book seriously silly stuff.
The whole 90-minute play takes place on one set, but director James MacDonald has given the cast plenty room to milk Reza's dark wit and aggressive slapstick. Ric Reid and Poole's comic timing is totally pro, Fiona Reid's move toward derangement shows some accomplished comedic chops.
Fiona Reid is the idealist of the bunch, but once her threshold for patience and liberal tolerance is reached as Alan and Annette become less and less interested in conceding their son's faults, Reid becomes the God of Carnage's most passionate maenad, ready to dismember her husband as readily as her detestable adversaries in this demoralizing morality play.
Reza is utterly unsentimental about how couples can behave. Partners under stress can become incompatible strangers. (The divorce rate isn't as high as it is for nothing.) A common cause, like defending your own child against another tribe's impositions, has a tenuous hold when issues move from the domestic to the strictly personal. Throughout the play the characters find their allies on the other side of the conflict, which precipitates the slide toward chaos.
Reza's play has a dramatic arc that builds both the comic and the catastrophic dimensions of the action masterfully, and she's a mordantly funny writer, too. The climactic explosions of personal contempt (not to mention some propulsive gastro emissions thrown up) will shock some viewers, and Hampton's translation of the coarse language every character resorts to as debate deteriorates into derision and disgust is perfectly idiomatic. Great swearing can be at least as funny as an excellent display of hurling when done right.
The Citadel has mounted a wonderful play that should make you laugh till it hurts, and go away exhilarated and probably depressed by Reza's indictment of people's incapacity to mend fences that separate their common ground.
Bill Rankin

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