Monday, February 3, 2020

Lamplighter's “God Of Carnage” Has Plenty To Laugh And Cry About.

Tony Award winning playwright (“Art”) Yasmina Reza has a gift with words. In a 1998 interview in the American Theatre magazine she is quoted as saying, “In a play, words are parentheses to the silence…I always work by cutting down”.

Natalie Bohlin and Mike Martin
In her “God of Carnage” (translated from French to English by Christopher Hampton) Reza’s Tony Award winning ‘Best Play’, four seemingly intelligent adults get into a cat scratching battle over an altercation between their two eleven year olds, Benjamin Raleigh and Henry Novak.

It happened in broad daylight on the neighborhood playground.

As the play opens we find ourselves, along with the Raleigh’s, in the expensive living room flat of Veronica and Michael Novak. They are smack dab in the middle of a conversation.

Here is what we are privy to:  The Raleigh’s eleven-year-old son Benjamin hit their son, Henry in the face with a stick and ‘broke two incisors, including injury to the nerve in the right incisor’. It all happened in the upscale Cobble Hill Park that is supposed to be a safe haven for children to play.

And why is this important to know? It seems that Veronica went to great lengths to provide Alan and Annette Raleigh with the facts of what happened to her son and to ask the Raleigh’s if their son, Benjamin, might apologize, but only if he really means it.  “This is the art of co-existence”. 

When the visiting couple agrees that, of course Benjamin ‘has to apologize’, one would think that the matter settled. Alan however doesn’t seem to think the children, or at least his son, have yet to master the ‘art’ of co-existence. They all agree to a meeting nevertheless.

Amy Stanley and Randy Coull

Small talk follows and a funny thing happened on the way to the Raleigh’s and Novak’s parting company.
The more the couples share a bit of food (clafouti with gingerbread crumbs) coffee, and booze, all niceties fly out the window. The conversation takes a sharp turn, branches off into an arena beyond anything having to do with the two eleven year olds (how about hamsters?).

Before we know it, a somewhat civilized and congenial meeting turns into street warfare with verbal bombs dropping in the most unlikely of places with the almost complete destruction of everyone’s egos, not to mention the neatly appointed upscale Novak apartment. (Dennis Floyd)

It is, as one reviewer put it, “brutally entertaining”, and I might add, riotous. Best of all, director Tyler Richards Hewes (“King Charles III” at Coronado Playhouse) emphasis is leaning more toward the comedic rather than sardonic.

The verbal and non-verbal absurdities that characterize this hilarious but scathing play are still there, but yours truly found herself laughing out loud more than crying in her boots but for the mere reality that such a meeting could ever happen.

Amy Stanly and Randy Coull are the Novak’s, Veronica and Michael. Their apartment will look like WWIII by plays end. Both seem likeable enough with Veronica as the alpha female of the couple. She has a book coming out about the tragedy in Darfur and she contributed to a collection on the ‘civilization of Sheba’. One might assume that she knows about civility. Well!

Michael owns a Domestic Hardwood store and is deep into plungers, doorknobs and fondue pots (especially around Christmas). He’s a burley, huggable guy who, for a time goes along/gets along with his wife.

Randy Coull, Mike Martin with Amy Stanley
Mike Martin is Allan Raleigh a corporate lawyer who is addicted to his phone. All throughout the evening he struggles to put out fires for a big pharmaceutical company in doo doo with the press. He represents the company. Keep watching his facial expressions, they are worth their weight in gold. 

Natalie Bohlin is Annette, his wife. She deals in money matters and at times tries to hold things together but literally looses it when she gets sick to her stomach and throws up all over Veronica’s out of publication, books. 

In that one hysterical/ icky scene the couples fall all over themselves, first by trying to get as far away from as her possible, and then work to clean up the mess she’s left behind. It doesn’t go without notice that part of the mess lands right on Alan’s crotch.

Over the years there have been other local productions of Reza’s play and the more I see this show the more I see how Reza must have been a prophet.

In 1998 when Reza penned ‘Carnage’, Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners” had been on shelves for almost fifty years. The deterioration of modern civilization has gone to the dogs and now it’s no surprise that in a moment of utter frustration Michael turns slowly from the nice soft-spoken agreeable husband, who after all the infighting, turns ape and ‘show his true colors’ (“I’m a Neanderthal”).

If you’ve ever tried to play interference with your child’s ‘play’ or playground shenanigans you will understand why Yasmina Reza’s “God Of Carnage” is so spot on funny and tragic at the same time.

Mike Martin and Natalie Bohlin
That’s not to say that parents shouldn’t be aware of what takes place on the playground or that children shouldn’t respect one another’s space, I’m just saying that when parents get involved this way, right or wrong, it’s a lose-lose situation.

Overall Reza’s ninety -minute ‘fall of civility’ play couldn’t be in better hands than at Lamplighters. All four actors are wonderfully engaged in their respective roles; behaving badly while trying to sort out their children’s behaving very badly on the playground.

Shout out’s to Steve Murdock, sound designer, Zyphyr Landie, lighting, Pam Stompoly-Ericson, costumes, and Kelsie R. Morris, stage manager.  


See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 9th
Organization: Lamplighters Theatre
Phone: 6109-303-5092
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 5915 Severin Drive, La Mesa, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $23.00
Photo Credit: Chuck Lapinsky

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