Review: God of Carnage (Goodman Theatre)

   
   

‘God of Carnage’, worthy of worship?

  
  

(l to r) Alan (David Pasquesi) tries to comfort his wife Annette (Beth Lacke) as Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) continues to discuss the argument between their two children. Photo credit Eric Y. Exit

  
Goodman Theatre presents
   
God of Carnage
  
Written by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Rick Snyder
at
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $22-$90  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage must be a producer’s wet dream—four actors, one set, and a run time less than 90 minutes. Plus, it’s hyper-relevant to upper-middle class urban professionals. The overall vibe is very similar to Reza’s Art, especially in skewering yuppie lifestyles. It all worked out very well for the Goodman, which snagged the Midwest premier after the Broadway debut won a bevy of Tonys and Broadway in Chicago dropped it from its season. With all the encapsulating hype, Reza’s tight little play (translated and Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) is horrified as her civil get together turns into chaotic mayhem. Photo credit: Eric Y. Exittweaked for American audiences by Christopher Hampton) is sure to get some butts in the Goodman’s seats. And the production lives up to the hoopla, even though no one in the cast has the national name recognition as Jeff Daniels or James Gandolfini.

The idea Reza plays around with in her play is whether adults and children are really that different, especially when it comes to scuffling. One child whacks another in the face with a stick, knocking out a couple of teeth. We see the obligatory meeting of parents sans children. From the beginning, there’s the awkward conflict between parenting techniques. Add to that the fact that maybe no party is innocent. Of course, things quickly spiral out of control.

To direct this darkly hilarious piece, the Goodman selected Rick Snyder, the same who directed a terrific production of Art at Steppenwolf a couple of seasons back. His experience with Reza shows—he allows his cast to push the humor just enough before becoming too ridiculous.

In the end, God of Carnage is an actors’ show. The New York folks got that when they brought in Gandolfini, Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hope Davis. Snyder cast his own set of Chicago stage heavyweights: Mary Beth Fisher, Beth Lacke, David Pasquesi, and Keith Kupferer. The foursome has a great thrust and parry with each other—and this is a play where alliances constantly shift and no one is on any one else’s side for very long (even if they’re married to them).

Pasquesi is Alan, a high-profile corporate lawyer, and is married to Annette (Lacke). She’s bothered by his love affair with his Blackberry. The hosts, Veronica (Fisher) and Michael (Kupferer, in the role originated by Gandolfini), are victim to their own neurosis. Veronica writes books about far-away conflicts and buys books about art; Michael sells doorknobs (among other things) and recently tossed the family hamster out on the street. Things really pick up when the liquor starts flowing, a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Really, you end up feeling sorry for the unseen children most of all.

Unfortunately, it seems like Snyder holds back, which is the show’s biggest shortcoming. There could be more chaos. I was also hoping for more rolling-on-the-floor laughing moments. The Monday night opening came off as a little Monday-ish. Even in the craziest instants, when things are thrown around or thrown up—the play is a bit unsatisfying. The cast needs to be all-in all the time.

God of Carnage succeeds because it nails the savagery that we all understand. Reza posits that there may not be much of a difference between parks infested with roving gangs of kids or Brooklyn living rooms with cups of espresso and imported rum. She digs under the veneer of modern civilization, and even Veronica, modern civilization’s biggest champion, can’t prevent her passions from slipping out. To insult and question how a person raises their kids is asking for strong responses. But Reza, Snyder, and the cast commit fully to this explosive scenario, and we get to enjoy the fireworks.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

(l to r) Michael (Keith Kupferer) tries to rationalize the situation while speaking to Alan (David Pasquesi) Annette (Beth Lacke) and Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher). Photo credit: Eric Y. Exit

     
     

Continue reading

Steppenwolf announces 2008/09 Season

Steppenwolf Theatre has just announced its upcoming season; the common theme being the exploration of imagination:

Kafka on the Shore
September 18 – November 16, 2008
Adapted for the stage and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati
Based on the work by Haruki Murakami

A young boy’s coming of age parallels an old man’s search for destiny in a modern day Japan where the borders between everyday reality, dreams and imagination are constantly crossed. In this world premiere adaptation of the popular novel, encounter talking cats on the streets of Tokyo, World War II soldiers trapped in time, Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Walker. Experience the unexpected in this fantastical tale about waking up to your own life.


The Seafarer
December 4, 2008 – February 8, 2009
By Conor McPherson
Featuring ensemble member John Mahoney

It’s Christmas Eve in Dublin. In the rundown house where Sharky cares for his blind brother, old acquaintances gather for a card game-joined by an ominous stranger. As the booze flows and the game intensifies, Sharky discovers he is playing for his soul. In this eerie, darkly humorous tale, celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (who also wrote “Shining City”) examines how we face the demons of our past as we struggle to find redemption.


Art
February 5 – June 7, 2009
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton

Art explores the intricacies of a long-term friendship between three men. When one of them drops a fortune on a piece of modern art, his friends’ surprising reactions touch off a series of personal confrontations. This witty, intelligent and often funny play explores the power of art to engage the imagination and the enduring bonds of friendship.

FYI: French playwright Yasmina Reza won the 1997 Olivier Award and the 1998 Tony Award for Art, which has been produced worldwide and translated into over 30 languages. British playwright Christopher Hampton won an Academy Award for the screen adaptation of his play Dangerous Liaisons and was nominated for his adaptation of Atonement.


The Tempest
March 26 – May 24, 2009
By William Shakespeare
Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau
Featuring ensemble member Frank Galati

In Shakespeare’s final work, Prospero is exiled to an enchanted island where he harnesses the powers of magic and masters the spirits that dwell there. His desire for revenge drives him to conjure a mighty storm trapping his enemies on the island. In our first Shakespeare production, Steppenwolf ensemble member Tina Landau re-imagines this magical tale of art, freedom and the transformative power of forgiveness.

Up
June 18 – August 23, 2009
By Bridget Carpenter
Directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro

On the best day of his life, Walter built a flying machine that reached the clouds. Ever since, he’s tried to invent new ways to fly while his wife keeps the family afloat. Up is a quirky, bittersweet tale about escaping the boundaries of the everyday and how we dream ourselves into a future.