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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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God of Carnage

When the structure of polite society falls apart, even the best-intentioned people are reduced to savage, selfish beings. This is the principle thesis of Yasmina Reza’s latest comedy, the Oliver-award winning God of Carnage, on at Circa.

The impetus for the meeting between Michel and Véronique Vallon (Andrew Foster and Carmel McGlone) and Alain and Annette Reille (Jeffrey Thomas and Carol Smith) is to agree on an appropriate course of action in response to a fight that broke out between their eleven-year-old sons. We are told early (and often) that Ferdinand Reille has struck Bruno Vallon with a stick, knocking out two of Bruno’s teeth and causing him disfigurement and much emotional pain.

What follows is the gradual but inevitable breakdown of order, from the stiff parlour conversation and affected interest in one another’s lives to screaming, tears, and throwing things at the walls. Though at first, the four characters’ loyalties are staunchly to their own spouses and sons, by the end of the play, an elaborate dance of entangling alliances has taken place. Still, it is clear that each is ultimately on his own.

The play, under the direction of Ross Jolly, superficially succeeds in its use of physically comedic gags to punctuate Reza’s biting satire of the undercurrents of savagery in the seemingly mundane lives of the modern middle class. If at first, Andrew Foster’s self-deprecating chuckle and bugged eyes often feel overblown, and Carol Smith’s disdainful drawl reads as any stock snob, these gestures later slip seamlessly into a production that leans heavily on the obvious choices dictated by the script. For better or worse, subtlety is nowhere to be found.

Through the raucous entertainment, though, Reza’s play attempts to make a bolder statement, using a series of one-sided phone conversations and a book-in-progress to cut a window into issues that far exceed the action in the Vallon’s parlour. By drawing on the larger ethical questions of the moral obligation of a pharmaceutical company to pay reparations to patients for a miracle drug-gone-wrong, or the ongoing genocide in Darfur, the conflict between the two boys and their parents takes on much grander implications.

But is a fistfight between two children really equitable to one of the greatest sociopolitical tragedies of our time? In that instance, the comedy’s ambition oversteps itself. But the parallels it draws between the fisticuffs episode and the subsequent battle of words and emotions that plays out between their parents resonates strongly.

Overall, Circa stages a strong production of a very good show, easily making God of Carnage a thoroughly enjoyable, if not deeply moving, evening.

Written by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Ross Jolly
With Carmel McGlone, Jeffery Thomas, Carol Smith and Andrew Foster
At Circa One, 4 April–2 May 2009

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