Parents Spar Like Kids in Incline“™s God of Carnage

Review by Ken Stern of God of Carnage: Incline Theatre

We’re mature adults, right? Well educated, good jobs, nicely dressed, well adorned apartment, and caring about our children. And when boys get in a fight, the parents can calmly discuss it and the perpetrator will apologize to the victim, even if the wrong-doer needs a talking to, first. That is how adults act, right?

No, not in God of Carnage which opened November 17th at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre. The parents, liberal, justice minded Veronica and Michael Novak, invite the more professional and rigid Annette and Alan Raleigh to their Brooklyn apartment to discuss the need for Benjamin to apologize. Taking responsibility and apologizing shows responsibility and maturity.

That“™s the theory, but comparing the suited Alan and his primly jacketed and skirted wife Annette with the more casually sweater-vested Michael and comfortably in slacks Veronica offers a clue that the foursome is not in synch. That is clear from the first exchange, when Veronica“™s reading summarizing the incident starts with “œarmed with a stick.“ Lawyer Allen wants that struck; Michael substitutes the less provocative “œfurnished.“ This starts the verbal jousting. Well adorned apartment living rooms and material success do not protagonists make. As the afternoon advances both couples show they are four antagonists, each against the other, and not protagonists acting civilly.

Arguments are more fun. The opening night audience laughed often at the discomfort unfolding on stage. This might be fun for the cast, also. The characters in God of Carnage, Veronica (Martha Slater), Michael (Brent Alan Burington), Annette (Carol Brammer), and Alan (Rory Sheridan) maneuver a verbal merry-go-round: sometimes up and making light, more often offering jabbing and zinging critical remarks. The tension increases as the couples learn more of each other and use that information for fodder to fuel barbed rejoinders.

All four cast members portray their unease. Annette is both rigid and nervous, with devastating consequences. The cracks in that couple“™s marriage are made clear. Brammer wonderfully portrays her increased agitation; holding a can of coke to her forehead neither cools her nor calms her down. Husband Alan is disdainful of his son, calling him a savage and other epitaphs. And he repeatedly metaphorically walks out. For there is a fifth character, of sorts: Alan“™s cell phone, or rather the client and staff calling the high powered attorney to halt a developing crisis of a new miracle pill whose harmful side effects are coming to light ahead of the client company“™s annual meeting. Alan is up and speaking loudly on the phone, putting the living room discussion on hold numerous times before the evening ends.

Sheridan portrays the lawyer as loud, assertive, caustic, a self-proclaimed “œJohn Wayne type.“ He is a take no prisoners type, whether it is the Novaks or his wife.

Michael, channeling a 1980s jovial sit-com father, cannot hold that pose forever. Halfway through he throws down the liberal, accommodator pose and starts to snarl. His Hyde is as entertaining as his Jekyll.

Veronica, the principled one, provides the initial tension by insisting on an apology to her son. Her changing mood is fueled by a bottle of rum husband Michael had brought out during a more conciliatory moment. It is her, and each of the foursome“™s undoing.

Director Kristin Clippard creates action in this “œtalky,“ light-on-plot play by having the characters move themselves around the stage“™s living room set. By the end, alliances will have shifted to every combination of inter-couple and intra-marriage conflict. The up and down and coats on and off has everyone on the go. Sayre Frederick ably supports the cast as the production stage manager.

Late in the conversation Alan says “œI believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.“ That philosophical flourish is a rare statement. Too much of Carnage is minor skirmishes between people who hardly know each other. While Alan is a high powered lawyer too often on his cell phone protecting a pharmaceutical company“™s drug being pulled off the market, the exchanges between the foursome are primarily petty banality. This is no one“™s responsibility but Yasmina Reza“™s, the playwright. Setting the two couples in a living room, having verbal jousting, and a high level of liquor consumption echo Who“™s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe. But that comparison reveals Carnage“˜s shortcoming. It is a fault of the script, not the production. Edward Albee“™s George and Martha are destroying their marriage and each other on stage. No battle is more devastating ““ or worth an audience“™s time. The stakes are too low in Carnage. While none of the characters are likeable or heroic, that“™s not the reason for dissatisfaction. The performances are strong, the actors offering a wide range of emotions, from anger to peace making. There are funny moments throughout, with the audience laughing appropriately. But whether arguing over releasing a hamster or child soldiers in the Congo, the disputes are either petty or impersonal.

The most significant issue is Alan“™s one way defense on the phone of the defective medication. The harming of customers taking those pills is a matter of real import.

The cast play their parts well, but watching the development and rise and fall of a food fight among adults, even with ever changing alliances, can only hold so much interest. And so the lights come down on four exhausted adults (and to an appreciative audience for their soldiering on).

Yasmina Reza“™s original script was in French; translation is by Christopher Hampton. God of Carnage won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play.

The show runs through December 4th, playing Wednesday through Sundays, with an additional performance on Tuesday, November 22nd and no performance on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 245th. For tickets call 513-241-6550Call: 513-241-6550 or click on

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