‘Tis a puzzlement! Why did playwright Yasmina Reza title her play GOD OF CARNAGE? Though often skirting the dark side, it is a comedy. No one is killed. Audiences laugh as they see themselves in similar situations. This carnage is character assassination.
The dictionary defines carnage as “the savage and excessive killing of many people.” That description invites people to think GOD OF CARNAGE is physically brutal. It is not. Yes, it was described as “brutally entertaining” by NY Newsday when it opened, not because death is involved, but because it invites self-examination.
Unnerving, too, is the fact that real carnage was in the forefront of everyone’s mind last week because of the Boston Marathon bombing events. Chillingly, we learned afterwards that suspect number 2 was apprehended during the 80 minutes we watched GOD OF CARNAGE.
Most people have heard of the physical and word fights that sometimes break out during little league games when parents confront other parents; often fisticuffs are involved. While this play employs some physicality, it is mostly stinging words that defy the children’s chant: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
GOD OF CARNAGE, the play which opened April 19 at Langhorne Players, presents two sets of upper class parents. The Novaks have invited the Raleighs to their apartment to discuss in a civilized fashion a playground incident in which Benjamin Raleigh hit Henry Novak in the mouth with a bamboo stick, breaking out his two permanent incisors, causing “irreparable physical and emotional harm,” according to his mother.
The parental encounter begins in a serious, friendly, and tolerant mood, as proposed by the playwright. Unlike in many plays, the exposition here is very short and to the point: Veronica and Michael Novak want to know how Alan and Annette Raleigh will make financial restitution for Henry’s injuries, but more importantly, Novaks want to know how the Raleighs will punish Benjamin for the nasty playground incident.
Tami Feist is excellent as Veronica Novak. A writer of books about Africa and an art collector, she postures as the protective mother and occasional good wife. Feist’s facial expressions and double-takes are priceless as she rolls her eyes at surprises in the conversation.
James K. Perri has a wonderful sense of timing and exhibits some fascinating body language portraying Michael Novak, a salesman of bathroom and household fixtures such as “doorknobs,” he says. He cares about his son, but thinks his wife is exaggerating the seriousness of the incident. Likable Perri tries to take everything into perspective.
A very protective lioness, Smith refuses to tell the Novaks how she will punish her son, “It is none of your business” she says with an aggravating smile. All the while she becomes more and more exasperated with her husband’s frequent cell phone conversations, pleading with him to stop. Smith fulfills well the unusual expectation of throwing up on stage, an act which had the audience groaning between their laughs as the remaining three adults rush to clean up.
Most annoying of the characters is lawyer Alan Raleigh. He has little interest in his son’s deed, dismissing it as typical childhood behavior. “How much will it cost?” he asks mater-of factly, between taking cell phone calls about a case with which he is dealing.
Tim Tolen is the possessed and obsessive Alan Raleigh. While his acting was fine, Tolen’s vocal projection needs to be stronger during normal conversation. His words were sometimes difficult to hear even in the intimate 73 seat theatre.
Highly respected DeLarme Landes directed the play, the results of which could be deadly if it were not paced well. But, he has been carefully attentive to important character interpretation and to pacing and building intensity as the story unfolds. His wife, Kitty, capably assisted him as stage manager, a position she often handles when Landes directs.
Very pleasing is the appropriate set designed by Hans Peters. A well-to-do living room occupies the entire width of the small stage. Wood floors added believability. Although only the second theatre set Peters has designed, he shows great promise for future creative ones.
A comedy with dark overtones, GOD OF CARNAGE is entertaining theatre worth seeing. It runs for eleven performances through May 4 with some Wednesday and Thursday performances at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and several Sunday matinees at 3 PM.
GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza
Directed by DeLarme Landes
April 19 – May 5, 2013
Langhorne Players Spring
Northampton Township Bucks County, PA 18940