"God of Carnage" at MTC

    ---Irene Backalenick

Music Theatre of Connecticut has offered such good work over the years that it can be forgiven for an occasional bungle. The current show -- “God of Carnage” -- falls into that category. And this is most surprising, considering that the comedy exploded on Broadway a few years ago, capturing the Tony Award.

But this time around “God of Carnage” is a decided let-down. We suspect that the production -- not the play -- is to blame. Yasmina Reza’s comedy, which offers such a sharp commentary on today’s society, had every possibility of being a winner. (It is tempting to compare this show to the earlier Broadway version, now on tape in the Lincoln Center archives.)

The satire is all about today’s hovering parents (helicopter parents, as they say). Two little boys have had an altercation (a typical playground fight, one might say). One hits the other with a stick, knocking out two teeth and possibly injuring a nerve.

The two sets of parents have come together to deal with the incident. Ronnie and Michael, parents of the toothless Henry, welcome Ben’s parents, Annette and Alan, to their home. Graciousness abounds. After all, these are civilized, educated adults. The hosts’ living room is bathed in a mellow golden glow (courtesy of lighting designer Michael Megliola), creating a warm, convivial mood -- at least initially.

But all too soon the polite exchanges give way to a steadily accelerating rancor -- at first couple against couple and ultimately mate against mate. In the growing battle, tension mounts, the mood darkens, and chaos takes over.

Given the claustrophobic atmosphere of MTC, viewers inevitably share an intimate experience with the actors -- which can be good or bad. In this production the best and worst moments are intensified by the audience/player intimacy. At one point the guest Annette becomes ill and vomits on stage. Director Mark Torres makes this physiological act so real that it could have encouraged a like experience among the theatergoers. (Fortunately, we saw no signs of this in the audience.) On the other hand, when a cell phone is dumped into a vase of water, the audience gasps with delight and bursts into laughter.

The players themselves run the gamut. Of the four, John Flaherty is the most satisfying, thoroughly invading his role -- particularly when communicating with his cell phone. He gets an “aha” reaction from the audience at such delicious moments. Cynthia Hannah is next in line, drawing audience sympathy as the righteous Ronnie -- though she tends to overplay the role. If only director Torres had reigned her in! As to the others, Marty Bongfeldt and Jim Schilling appeared to have wandered accidentally into the scene, uncertain why they’re there.

This time around, alas, we cannot happily recommend “God of Carnage.” But the good news on the MTC front is that the company is moving to larger, better facilities later this year. Given their long, honorable history, we wish them every success in their new quarters.

Posted on 2.13.2014


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