Reviewed by Patrick Hao
The first thing you’ll notice going into Studio A to see Binghamton University’s mainstage production of God of Carnage is how the seats surround three sides of the stage. The seats are angled so that audience members look down onto the stage, much like Roman spectators preparing to watch a battle. In God of Carnage, the battle is between two sets of Brooklyn parents arguing over everything from parenting to gender differences.
This pitch-black comedy by Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, is directed by Tom Kremer. Carnage is a logical follow-up for Kremer, after his successful direction of Tartuffe last semester for the BU Theatre Department; both plays serve as a dark comedies of manners.
In Carnage, two couples convene to discuss an altercation between their children. Veronica and Michael Novack (Stephanie Gomerez and Spencer Rosner) are, respectively, an author on books about Darfur and a self-made wholeseller; Alan and Annette Raleigh (Tom Mackin and Emily Mahoney) are a lawyer, cell phone always close at hand, and a wealth manager.
An instrumental of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil serves as an overture to the play and sets the tone. Each character is human, susceptible to their inner carnage. The joy of the play is seeing how long each character can maintain a perception of civility and watching that civility slowly tear from the seams. The intimate staging of the play enhances the feeling of voyeuristic naughtiness. These arguments are not something we are meant to see.
Eventually the play becomes a Buñuelian comedy. The characters are constantly trying to leave but not until they get in the last word. That oh-so-important last word means the world to Michael, Veronica, Alan and Annette. Veronica, in one of the first lines of the play, states with self-amusement, “There is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, isn’t there?”
As the façade of acceptability breaks down, some wonderful opportunities develop for physical comedy. At times the staging feels like a ’30s screwball comedy in the best of ways. Mahoney as Annette has a particular Katherine Hepburn quality about her movements. However, sometimes on opening night (Oct. 15), it felt there was more to be explored when it came to staging and physicality.
But the true balancing act is the shifting allegiances and emotions that could prove tough to even the most seasoned Broadway actors. To see how each actor handles the difficulties with such skill creates a really fast-paced and funny play … and that takes into account that all four actors are onstage for the duration of the 1 hour and 25 minutes play with constant dialogue. What is great about the play is that each actor gets a moment to shine. Mackin, especially, is able to sustain his character’s misogynistic, condescending id, so that the moment when he is reduced to pure slop is the apex of the play.
By the end of the play, you will find yourself shifting allegiances as much as the actual characters do. God of Carnage is an impressive production with deft handling of verbiage that needs to be delivered in brisk pace. The production ends with a reprise of Sympathy for the Devil, but none of the characters are devilish or evil. No, their flaws are just human.
God of Carnage is certainly a show to watch and to argue over afterwards.
IF YOU GO: Performances are 8 p.m. today and Saturday (Oct 16-17) and Oct. 22-24; 2 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 17) and Oct 24-25 in Studio A of the BU Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $14 (faculty/staff/seniors/alumni, $12; students and children, $8. Call 777-ARTS, or visit theatre.binghamton.edu.