REVIEW: “God of Carnage” at Shakespeare & Company

by Macey Levin

         Yasmina Reza, a French actress, novelist, screenwriter and playwright, has had three productions on Broadway; two of which have won Tony Awards as best play: ART and God of Carnage.  The plays are satirical studies of upper middle class society.  Her savage wit is on full display in Shakespeare & Company’s terrific presentation of …Carnage.

          Two couples are in the midst of a polite but strained conversation regarding a playground fight between their eleven-year-old sons.  Veronica (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and Michael Novak’s (Jonathan Croy) son Henry was hit in the face with a stick by Benjamin, son of Alan (Allyn Burrows) and Annette (Kristin Wold) Raleigh, and has two broken teeth and several bruises.  Both sets of parents try to be cordial and understanding while searching for an unthreatening way to teach their boys a moral lesson.  As their conversations evolve slips of the tongue abound; their defensive and combative comments belie their refined behavior and hollow marital relationships are revealed. Reza examines the contrast between the adopted attitudes of people under stress who are attempting to be rational, and their basic instinctual behavior after the patina of civility has been stripped away.

          The four characters have disparate perspectives on life.  Veronica, a writer who is working on a book about Darfur, preaches universal cooperation.  Her husband Michael sells home goods, specializing in toilets, and tends to vacillate on his opinions based on who is closest to his views at any given moment.  Alan is a cold and overbearing lawyer who espouses his belief in the god of carnage because, he says, everyone has to take care of themselves even to the detriment of others.  He seems to live on and for his cell phone much to the dismay of his wife Annette, a wealth manager.  She is restrained until she drinks an inordinate amount of rum.  In the play’s grossest scene, she vomits over Veronica’s valuable art books.

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          Though the events are somewhat predictable and it is something of a one-joke plot, the acting is so strong and entertaining that the weaknesses of the play are minimized. Croy is a wonderful physical actor.  His gestures and bodily movements are hysterical as he becomes more and more inebriated.  At the same time, he is charming in his anger and frustration.  Aspenlieder, a superb comedienne, whose looks at her antagonists, including her husband when the time comes, are graphic and filled with silent, but comic, intention.

         Alan is something of a snob and played by Burrows he is the least sympathetic of the entire group, though the rest of them aren’t necessarily upright people.  Alan is more devoted to his position as the chief lawyer of a troubled pharmaceutical company than he is to his family, and Annette lets him know it.  Wold probably has the most difficult role in that she has to be somewhat restrained until she becomes drunk and then riotous.  It is a pleasure to watch these four actors ply their craft with intelligence and insight. 

          Devin Drohan’s set is indicative of a middle class living room that belies the turbulent lives of the residents.  Street noises (traffic, blaring horns, sirens,) designed by Amy Altadonna, are peppered throughout the running of the plot lending reality to the Brooklyn environment in which they live.

         Director Regge Life has controlled the deterioration of the relationships and the crazed physical action so that the play preserves its shaky semblance of reality.  He has paced the opening minutes of the play in a languid manner and allows the characters to become increasingly madcap while respecting its necessary verisimilitude.

        This God of Carnage is a treat and another one of Shakespeare & Company’s expert and entertaining works.

God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton; Directed by Regge Life; Cast:  Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Veronica Novak) Allyn Burrows (Alan Raleigh) Jonathan Croy (Michael Novak) Kristin Wold (Annette Raleigh); Scene design: Devon Drohan; Costume design: Charlotte Palmer-Lane; Lighting design; James W. Bilnoski; Sound design: Amy Altadonna; Stage Manager:Hope Rose Kelly. Running Time: ninety minutes; no intermission; Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox MA; From 9/14/17; closing 10/8/17

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