If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A BOISTROUS “CARNAGE” PREMIERES AT THEATERWORKS    

 

Get ready to squirm.  Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award winning comedy, “God of Carnage”, is currently spewing its venom at Hartford TheaterWorks where the recent Broadway hit is making its East Coast Regional Theatre premiere.  This prestigious production is a very loud opening for TheaterWorks’ 25th anniversary season.

“God of Carnage” has a deceptively simple premise:  two sets of parents meet to discuss a playground incident that resulted in one of their sons being beaten (two missing teeth a result) by the son of the other couple.  The adults are sophisticated, wealthy and civil to a fault.  A meeting of the minds begins amicably enough, but soon disintegrates into verbal and physical bashing as true feelings are revealed and battle lines are drawn. Reza’s provocative script (with a savvy translation from the original French by Christopher Hampton) suggests the all-too-fragile line between chaos and order, between civility and man’s animalistic nature.  She accomplishes this is one act and 80 brisk minutes.  The play is a winner.

At TheaterWorks, however, a crucial misstep is made almost immediately with a production that starts far too loudly and ultimately has nowhere to go.  Under the pushy direction of Tazewell Thompson, even the initial exposition of “God of Carnage” is played at high volume as though the theatre was cavernous and the actors were instructed to reach the last row of the balcony.  One of the best things about TheaterWorks is its intimate venue and a play like “God of Carnage” should actually work better under these cozy circumstances where subtleties of character could emerge up close and personal.  Here the performances are more shouted than acted.  The insults do fly but it may be the audience that ultimately feels pummeled.

The women at TheaterWorks fare slightly better in the casting primarily because the roles seem a better fit.  Candy Buckley, as Veronica, is a forceful personality as evidenced by her bravura turn as a ruthless Hollywood agent in the theatre’s previous production of “The Little Dog Laughed”.  Her crisp line readings and over-articulated phrases are funnier as the play progresses but one worries about the vocal strain – already clearly in evidence - of doing the role several times a week at the present volume.  More successful is Susan Bennett whose progression from subservient mouse to ferocious mama tiger is the most believable transformation in the cast.

Working against type Wynn Harmon, playing Veronica’s blue-collar husband, never truly convinces as a man sheltering an inner-bully and Royce Johnson, as Bennett’s insufferable spouse, is so thoroughly obnoxious from the first line of the play it leaves the audience with no discovery.  That the actor is also African-American doesn’t distract significantly, but the play also doesn’t really support the race change.

Donald Eastman has provided some smart furnishings for the upper-class home setting though the side stages are oddly used with a portable bar on one end and a lonely black kitchen chair on the other.   Harry Nadal’s costumes are character appropriate and Marcus Doshi’s lighting is first-rate.   Most of all, “God of Carnage” still remains a supremely entertaining comedy of bad manners even under these lesser circumstances.

“God of Carnage” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through December 19th.  Extra performances have also been added.  For further information and ticket reservations call 860.527.7838 or visit online at www.theaterworkshartford.org.  As a side note, TheaterWorks still holds the dubious distinction of having the longest curtain speeches around!

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on 12.8.10


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