Saturday, September 24, 2016

Theater Review - God of Carnage

The 2015 RyMickey Awards will return tomorrow with its final six days of awards.  For now, a one-day respite for a review of a local theatrical production that is quickly selling out multiple performances.

God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Kate Buckley
Where: Studio Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Thursday, September 22, 7:30pm
Photo by the REP

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players kick off their 2016-17 season with the comedy God of Carnage which explores the uncouth side of human nature that lies just beneath the civilized façades some folks erect to hide their true thoughts and feelings.  The plot is most basic -- two couples meet up in a Brooklyn apartment after the son of Alan and Annette (Robert Gerard Anderson and the REP's Elizabeth Heflin) knocks out two teeth of the son of Michael and Veronica (the REP's Hassan El-Amin and the REP's Kathleen Pirkl Tague) during a small brawl in a park.  However, with this set-up introduced in the opening moments, the play's remaining intermissionless eighty-five minutes turns into a contest of wits, oneupmanship, and marital and sociological carnage.  This play, as we soon discover, isn't about the unseen kids at all, but rather about shifting viewpoints, ever-changing allegiances, and the animalistic nature that claws its way out of us humans every now and again.

With little plot from which to build interest, the audience is placed squarely at the mercy of the actors onstage, reliant on them to create reasons for us to comprehend their characters' feelings and emotions.  This quartet does a fine job of taking us on their individual journeys which may very well start the play in one hemisphere and end the play in one that is its polar opposite.  While guest actor Robert Gerard Anderson and debuting REP member Hassan El-Amin both nicely portray the masculine attributes gifted them by playwright Yasmina Reza (and translated from French by Christopher Hampton), for regular REP-goers, the real treat lies in seeing longtime troupe members Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Elizabeth Heflin spar one another with great gusto.  Their mannered civility quickly devolves and the interactions between Annette and Veronica seem to shift minute-to-minute from hostile to considerate and then back again, yet these two talented actresses make their characters' motivations and feelings always ring true.

Taking place on a rather lovely, sophisticated, and somewhat posh apartment set created by the talented REP designer Stefanie Hansen -- the type of environment that seems too ornate to really be lived in like the initial façades worn by the characters -- director Kate Buckley shrewdly utilizes the setting of the REP's small black box Studio Theater by constantly moving her actors around so all three seating locations of the audience feel as if they're squarely in the action of the play's increasingly brutal and hilarious proceedings.  As the god of Carnage begins to emerge onstage, I can't imagine there was a bad seat in the house.

Ultimately, a repeat viewing would likely help with better grasping the various motivations of characters' ever-shifting allegiances and tones.  Don't get me wrong, nothing here is confusing in the slightest, but there were a few minor instances here or there where I found myself going, "Why is X reacting this way to Y at this very moment?"  This is in part because your focus as an audience member is pulled four different ways at nearly every moment.  Who do I want to have my eyes on now because they're all great, you find yourself asking.  And that's a good thing.  For a play to create four characters all with their own distinct personalities, desires, and motivations which are all relayed to you in the audience so vividly in a real-time setting -- meaning the 85 minutes in the play are 85 continuous minutes in the lives of these characters -- is quite a feat.  The REP is certainly up to taking on this task and they open their season with much success.  I've wanted the REP to tackle this play for quite a while now (I even hoped for it in this 2012 review) and I greatly appreciate the group tackling some of these more modern classics as part of their great repertoire.  I'll say this again -- you can't get a better deal on theater than the Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware.  


  1. Was all prepared to say I had seen this play somewhere before when, like a dolt, I realized I saw a film version. Doh :/

  2. The movie was fine, but the play was better. It's not mind-blowing or boundary-breaking, but it's a fun watch.