Grade: A (4.5/5 stars)
Prior to seeing the Blue Room Theatre’s production of “God of Carnage,” which began its run on Jan. 16, the only version of the story I had seen was Roman Polanski’s 2011 film adaptation, “Carnage.” While that version had Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet in the four roles, the film just felt stiff, claustrophobic, and unconvincing.
Going into the local production, I had my doubts. It’s something I try not to do, but, with having seen a version that didn’t impress me, my feelings were mixed. Surprisingly, I found myself laughing at the play’s humor and felt more comfortable watching it on a live stage.
The play has seen major success since its inception in 2008. There was a Broadway production in 2009 with James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, and Marcia Gay Harden. It also ran in London with Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Ken Stott, and Tamsin Grieg. Both of those productions were widely acclaimed and went on to win multiple awards. The Blue Room Theatre’s production kind of brings big names to its roster, but, for the most part, they’re all local. Even if you have never heard of any of the stars of this play, the power each one carries in his or her performance is dynamic and will certainly leave a lasting impression.
“God of Carnage” brings together two sets of parents after their kids got into an offstage fight. Veronica (Amanda Detmer) and Michael (Johnny Lancaster) welcome Alan (Michael Gannon) and Annette (Daniela Mastropietro) into their home for coffee and clafouti (a baked French dessert). They try to come to a conclusion on the whole matter, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. What begins as a civil discussion explodes into a chaotic argument that, ironically, makes the adults seem like children.
Each of these high-class, politically correct, and snooty characters are ones we might hate in real life. But the beauty of Yasmina Reza’s play, directed by Chico native Coy Middlebrook, is that we watch them try to keep things together before their real feelings for each other come out. They’ve only known each other for less than an hour, and they already want to strangle each other. We might want to, too, if Reza made this a straightforward drama. She doesn’t.
When parents gather for a discussion, one would expect for all of them to have some involvement in coming to a conclusion. That is not the case in “God of Carnage.” Alan, a lawyer, seems more interested in what’s going on with his job. He has a case as big as his ego, and he has to take a call every time his phone rings. The three other adults, including his wife, are appalled and baffled by Alan’s disengaging behavior surrounding the situation being discussed in the room. It’s a hilarious commentary how there is always one person in the room who would rather be on their phone than having a face-to-face conversation.
Gannon is perfect in the role of Alan. Every time he leaps to answer his “important” phone call, the viewer will be disgusted, but it’s impossible to not chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Arrogant and annoying, Gannon is the perfect representation of the people who can’t drive themselves away from their phone for at least 15 minutes.
The rest of the cast does exceptionally well in their respective roles, too. Detmer, returning to her hometown for this production, shines as Veronica. She has a sort of Cruella de Vil tone to her arguments, exhibiting a feeling of superiority and self-importance over all those present – including her own husband. And just wait until the argument between those two starts. Wow! Detmer nails it.
Lancaster’s Michael comes across as the one who seems quiet and less full of himself, but he’s just hiding his real image, which is shown as the arguing progresses. Claiming his wife “dressed him up like a liberal,” Michael rips off his sweater in an angry gorilla-like fashion, and it’s a blast to watch. Things get more out of control when he decides to bring alcohol into the room.
Seeing Mastropietro go absolutely bonkers is a riot on its own. Downing the rum, destroying the flowers, and getting back at her husband for his constant cell phone usage is beautiful. Toward the end of the play, there’s one great bit where the two women come together and are cackling over Alan’s sudden depression at the lost of his “whole world” in the digital device. The men try to fix everything, and the women just sit back and laugh. It’s pure brilliance.
Running at just a little under 90 minutes, “God of Carnage” is worth every minute.
“God of Carnage” is sold out for the rest of this week. The remaining times are Sunday, Jan. 20, at 2 p.m., and Thursday, Jan. 24, through Saturday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets before they’re all gone.