By Bridgette M. Redman
Our behavior often belies what we claim to worship.
Our words may claim that we worship civility, intelligence, culture, good behavior and sound parenting choices. Strip away far fewer layers than we like to admit and we find instead that the only god we’re worshiping is one of carnage.
That is what the four parents in Yasmina Reza’s dark comedy “God of Carnage” soon discover about each other and themselves. They think their intentions are good. They pat themselves on the back for doing the “right” and “civilized” thing that is intended to be good for the children. Then they proceed to destroy each other without mercy.
Led by Director Kathy Mulay, the four actors at Kalamazoo’s Farmers Alley Theatre entertain the audience with their misery. Their behavior, so well-intended to start, is so bad that you laugh rather than cry, or as Tara Sytsma’s Annette Raleigh resorts to – puke.
Before the play opens, their 11-year-old sons were in an altercation that left Michael (Joe Aiello) and Veronica (Katherine Nofs) Novak’s son missing two teeth after Alan (Scott Burkell) and Annette’s son hit him with a stick. The four are meeting at the Novak’s home to try to resolve how to handle the situation with their boys.
Mulay’s direction is fast-paced and keeps the actors moving across what felt like a very large living room, particularly for a New York apartment. As the alliances between the four adults change, so do their crosses and the chairs they choose. It was an interesting interpretation to make Annette a career woman as opposed to the alternate interpretation that “wealth manager” is a fancy title like “domestic engineer.” The rest of the lines in the play seem to indicate that the only wealth she manages is that which her husband earns.
Nofs’ Veronica was the one character who was never sympathetic. From her opening lines she comes across as snobbish and arrogant. With everyone else, the layers peel off slowly after originally showing us their good side. Nof never gives us a good side to her character. To her credit, though, she still found a way to make the woman look worse, and her performance after all hell breaks loose is stellar, regressing in age until her behavior imitates that of a precocious five-year-old. Her physicality and strong voice contributes to a full-on temper tantrum that gives lie to the civilization and culture she claims to be steeped in.
Sytsma had an outstanding vomiting scene which she sold with great fervor. While her voice was sometimes soft, it was always audible, and she played Annette’s tension with great conviction. Burkell as her husband was highly convincing as the sleazy lawyer who was the stereotypical shark, always eager to tear into someone, especially once initial blood had been spilled. It is his confidence and hard edges that make the scene all the more amusing when his wife finds a way to deflate him. When she cuts him off from his security blanket – and uses the method that she does – he is castrated and all fight drains from him.
Rounding out the cast, Aiello plays the clearly uncomfortable husband, thrust into a situation where he is out of sorts. He is eager to make his guests comfortable while he also feels torn into supporting his wife and her views. He is one of the first to cast aside the veneer that fits him so uncomfortably which in the end, makes him behave less savagely than the others.
All of this takes place on W. Douglas Blickle’s beautifully appointed set, one easily sold as that of a middle-class family, though strongly decorated to the wife’s tastes and interests. A large red painting in the back fits the theme and also foreshadows what is to come.
There is no doubt that “God of Carnage” is a dark comedy, but the bad behavior of the well-spoken, articulate adults entertains most thoroughly, even if we all leave shaking our heads and hoping that we would never act the same in similar circumstances.
‘God of Carnage’
Farmers Alley Theatre, 221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo. Thursday-Sunday through April 29. $23-27. 269-343-2727. http://www.farmersalleytheatre.com