Have you ever been drawn into a Facebook argument and immediately wished you had stayed out of it? Or if you’ve ever been forced to endure a particularly awkward, lengthy parent-teacher conference, then you might understand what it feels like to be the characters in Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning 2009 play, God of Carnage (translated by Christopher Hampton). Presented by Our Productions Theatre Co. at Addison Theatre Center’s Studio, it’s a taut 80 minutes or so of 21st Century societal angst. Civilization exists as barely skin deep.
Stephanie Riggs, Co-Artistic Director of Our Productions, plays Annette, the long-suffering wife of bigwig corporate attorney Alan (Bob Reed). Alan is that constant, loud cell phone talker, the one who lets you hear every word of every private phone conversation he has and then berates you for eavesdropping. He’s a polar opposite of affable working class retail merchant Michael, played by Our Productions’ Co-Artistic Director Brad Baker.
Michael is a big bear of a man who constantly reassures everyone that he’s just a good guy trying to foster harmony until you push his buttons the wrong way. His wife, Veronica (Christine Phelan), wears a perpetual strained, fake smile as she strives to be the perfect hostess, peppering conversations with thinly veiled hints of her “selfless”, morally superior work documenting aspects of life on the African continent.
The play centers on the aftermath of a playground scuffle between the sons of the two couples. Veronica and Michael have drafted a written statement, clearly showing their child as victim of Annette and Alan’s son’s reprehensible violence. The latter take issue with the semantics of the drafted statement, and the conflict simmers and explodes from there. Each character takes turns being positively monstrous, with civil niceties hurled aside in favor of brutal honesty.
All four actors give impressive performances. Reed shines as Alan, a role he seems born to play. He finds the delicate balance between blowhard and pragmatist. Donald Trump without the xenophobia? He’s matched well by Baker’s Michael, as the men bond over their own nostalgic childhood experiences but clash over their disparate societal tiers and family outlooks.
Riggs’ Annette strikes a tone of almost-normal, even though a nervous stomach reveals that she’s teetering on the edge of uncouth behavior as much as the other three. Phelan, who—along with Reed—is also a newcomer to the cast since Our Productions mounted the play last year, struggles early on to establish her character securely. But by the time the proceedings reach fever pitch, she portrays every bit of the tightly-wound suburban socialite she needs to be, someone who would be right at home among the Desperate Housewives of erstwhile Wisteria Lane.
Director (and Co-Artistic Director) Mark Mullino keeps the action moving at a reasonably rapid pace, even when the playwright’s plot offers roadblocks. Several false exits take place, when Annette and Alan vow to leave but get drawn back in for specious reasons. (After all, if they leave, the play is over!) Plot devices like these contrived exit attempts threaten to derail the play’s momentum and tend to weaken the biting commentary, but the skilled ensemble keeps things barreling along.
God of Carnage is Our Productions’ second show of their first mini-season in Dallas. The Company definitely knows what it wants to do, and is a welcome addition to D/FW region’s roster of top-notch smaller theatre troupes.
God of Carnage runs through August 23rd in the Studio Theater at Addison Theatre Center, 15650 Addison Road, 75001. Tickets are available by calling (972) 724-2147 or visiting http://www.ourdallasproductions.org.
As reviewed by Jason Kane, special contributor to criticalrant.com