Theater Review

Beyond its many laughs, ‘God of Carnage’ cuts deep

CorrespondentJune 20, 2013 

  • If you go

    What: “The God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, presented by Hot Summer Nights

    Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

    When: 8 p.m. June 20-22 and 26-29; 2 p.m. June 22 and 29; 3 p.m. June 23 and 30

    Tickets: $22-$25

    Info: 919-480-5166 or theatreraleigh.com

Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Broadway hit, “God of Carnage,” has a harsh message: underneath all our civility, we’re still savages, ready to defend our territory with brute force. That audiences can laugh uproariously as this concept plays out is a tribute not only to Reza’s comic character confrontations but also to Hot Summer Nights’ first-rate casting and direction.

Two couples meet to discuss a schoolboy fight between their sons. Alan, a pharmaceutical company lawyer, and his wife, Annette, who’s in wealth management (Alan’s), have come to the apartment of Michael, a household goods wholesaler, and his wife, Veronica, a writer specializing in African civilizations.

The conversation is cordial at first, Veronica serving coffee and pastry as the four mull over getting the boys together for apologies and work out the medical bills.

But cracks in their well-bred manners quickly surface as accusations of bad parenting and high-minded attitudes devolve into sniping within the couples over long-suffered irritants. A no-holds-barred war is declared, fueled by rounds of alcohol, leading to near-violent truth telling.

Reza gets a lot of mileage out of recognizable marital gripes and spices things up with several “I can’t believe they did that” theatrical coups. But she diminishes her script’s power by having characters constantly flip-flop attitudes and switch allegiances, making them wildly inconsistent just to get easy laughs.

Thankfully, the cast makes it all work, keeping the 80-minute one-act hurtling along. Derrick Ivey turns in another devastating portrait of a jaded, weary man, his Alan a clear-eyed but emotionally closed off husband.

Julie Fishell follows up her career-defining performance in the company’s “August: Osage County” last year with another multi-level characterization as Annette: bitter and frustrated, yet extremely vulnerable. Dana Marks knowingly reveals Veronica’s seething resentment of her husband’s approach to life, while making plain the character’s own prejudices. Michael Tourek projects Michael’s working-class outlook believably as he quietly subverts his wife’s liberal values.

Richard Roland’s direction adds welcome action and physical comedy to the talky script, staged against Chris Bernier’s striking minimalist living room that includes a stunning central wall hanging depicting a gnarled tree.

Hot Summer Nights again proves it has the resources to mount contemporary, issue-oriented material and deserves credit for adding such fare into its season of light comedy and musicals.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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