Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
August 10, 2012
Welcome to the Human Zoo.
If you’d like to see the breakdown of civility and civilization embodied in four New York suburbanites, step right up to “God of Carnage,” Yazmina Reza’s 2006 Tony and Olivier Award-winning comedy of mangled manners.
In its English language translation (the play was originally written in French), it all starts on a Brooklyn playground. One pugnacious 11 year-old whacked another with a stick, causing some bruises, a couple of broken teeth – and a wounded pre-adolescent ego –played out by the parents who come together to resolve the conflict.
The hosts in this high-end aerie are a writer who sees herself as a level-headed arbiter of art, taste and behavior. And her businessman husband, who later reveals that he’s a redneck, blue-collar guy whose wife “is passing [him] off as a liberal” for the evening.
Their guests are a prissy wealth manager and her cellphone-addicted lawyer spouse, who shows himself to be a shady-dealing shyster when it comes to covering up the toxic side effects of his client’s patented medication.
What begins as a pleasant façade of niceties exchanged among urbane strangers devolves into a brutal, animalistic four-way free-for-all, replete with attempted spousal strangulation and projectile vomiting.
We snicker and giggle and gasp and guffaw – but is it because we think we’d never stoop to these base, bestial levels – or because we know that, given the right provocation, we might?
I saw the original Broadway all-star cast of the show, which included Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini , Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden – all Tony nominated. And I have to say, in the close quarters of the Globe’s White Theatre, with the action practically in our laps, I liked this production better. It’s more allegorical, less farcical and over the top. And funnier, thanks to Richard Seer’s superb direction, where tiny bits of stage business and subtle moves or expressions make the lightweight work soar.
The cast is terrific, three of whom are impressive alumni of the Old Globe/USD MFA program, of which Seer is the Director. We’re treated to the wonderful superciliousness of Erika Rolfsrud , the barely concealed rage of Caitlin Muelder , and the spectacular devolution of Lucas Caleb Rooney from pseudo-sophisticate to self-professed Neanderthal. They’re joined in this massive breakdown of urbanity by the marvelous T. Ryder Smith, a live-wire of neurotic, kinetic energy as the unsavory attorney.
There’s no one to latch onto as an even vaguely likable character. No one gets off the (meat) hook. And that’s pretty much the point. We get it early on but still, in 75 intermissionless minutes, it’s kind of delicious, schadenfreude fun watching the stripping down and dressing down of human( un)kind. And what, exactly, does that say about us?
“God of Carnage” runs through September 9, at The Old Globe.
©2012 PAT LAUNER