Saturday, 17 March 2012

Theatre Review: God of Carnage @ RMTC

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

People like to say that "life imitates art", and like all adages and phrases, we carry this saying like a shield or a sword, hoping it will get us through the conflict of our daily lives. But the fact that we rely so much on these phrases means that we so often forget to check if they haven't broken down. Of course, when we do take the time to check, it's already too late - they're of no use. So what do we have then?

God of Carnage, a play by Yasmina Reza, is on one level an answer to this question; on another, it's a hysterically funny ninety minutes of mayhem; on another it's a startlingly thought-provoking play; on another, it's a slice into the lives of people we come to realize are just like us. But this is no morality tale, and if it is, it's so intricately woven into Reza's script that we aren't really wise to it until the curtain closes and we start to head out of the theatre and on our way home.

It's about two couples - Veronica and Michael Novak (Shauna Black and Oliver Becker) and Alan and Annette Raleigh (John Cassini and Vickie Papavs) - who meet in the Novaks' home to discuss the small matter of the Raleighs' son Benjamin having hit the Novaks' son Henry in the face with a stick.

Both couples are relatively polite and straightforward at first; the Novaks are sweetly insistent that Benjamin apologize to Henry for the two teeth that he knocked out, while Annette fawns over every little detail, from the coffee table books to the hint of gingerbread in Veronica's clafouti, like any good and decent houseguest should. Only Alan is a jerk - he gets up every fifteen seconds to check about the travails of some pharmaceutical company on his cell, but because he's a lawyer, what else can he do? (That phone meets an untimely end halfway through, by the way, in one of the evening's most triumphant moments.)

(The infamous clafouti.)

Naturally, the couples come to blows, not only about the precise details of the "incident" (as Alan and Michael, being familiar with male aggression, would probably refer to it, quote marks and all) but in regards to all sorts of things: the newly-bought tulips, the crisis in Darfur, plumbing matters, sexual frustration ... it's amazing what you can cover in about ninety minutes. No-one stays on anyone's side, as much as one would like them to; alliances shift and re-shift so many times that you stop counting and just surrender yourself to the hysterical mayhem of it all.

(Veronica and Michael have a little disagreement.)

All four performers are equally fantastic, but Vickie Papavs (below, on the far right) absolutely steals the show, with a performance that one could only describe as transcendent. I don't want to ruin the fun for anyone who goes, but she provides the first of many, many "oh my God!" moments, and goes on from there to be so masterful in mixing physical comedy with sharp, pointed barbs that you wish she'd have an encore all her own.

(All photos are by Bruce Monk from the RMTC website.)

Gillian Gallow deserves an encore all her own for her incredible set, a tasteful apartment tilted at an angle towards the audience that reminded me of the curves and distortions of a funhouse mirror in which all our irregularities become apparent. This is a strikingly adept analogy when you consider that the night I went (March 16th) was also the night of a big Jets game, and the ladies in the row behind us were obsessively - and annoyingly - checking their cellphones before the lights dimmed for a live stream of the game.

I wonder what they thought of the attachment Alan has to his own cellphone, and how he becomes completely devastated when that phone is taken from him. "My whole life is in there!" he screams, as his wife Annette snorts and Veronica joins in laughing at their husbands' obsession with technology. That female camaraderie doesn't last, of course, because sooner or later someone's compact case gets chucked against the wall. (But I'm saying too much.)

In short: God of Carnage is, without a doubt, one of the best, funniest, wisest, most captivating plays I've ever seen at MTC, and one I would gladly go see again at a moment's notice. It's running until April 7th, and tickets are still available for many of the nights, so there's really no excuse why you shouldn't go. Highly, highly recommended.

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