Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meet the Parents: Review-- God of Carnage at Zach Scott

Lauren Lane & Thomas Ward in God of Carnage
photo copyright Kirk Tuck 2011
As promised in my recent I HEART AUSTIN post, I am here to deliver Reasons Why You Must Go See God of Carnage at Zach Scott. Let me just come out of the gates with the most important reason of all:


Now order your tickets quick, before reading more, because I predict this show, which runs through January 8, 2012, is going to sell out and sell out and sell out, as it should.

Okay, got your tickets? Good. Now let us continue. First, a confession: I don’t often read other reviews before writing my own and, with rare exception, do I comment on other reviewers. That said, the other day I read what at best could be described as a tepid endorsement of God of Carnage and I had to wonder if that reviewer and I saw the same show. Because that reviewer (who shall remain nameless and genderless here) did not jump up and down and proclaim what a hilarious show this is. REALLY? REALLY? Because I laughed through the entire thing.

While I don’t usually go in for spoilers, it’s perfectly fine for me to describe the premise here, since the piece is more about character study and human relationships than some massive, convoluted plot that gets resolved in the end. We’ve got two married couples—Annette and Alan Raleigh (played by Angela Rawna and Eugene Lee) and Veronica and Michael Novak (played by Lauren Lane and Thomas Ward). The Raleighs are a wealth manager (her) and a big pharma attorney (him). The Novaks are a salesman (hardware type stuff—him) and a “writer” and part time art bookstore clerk (her). We open up with the four gathered in the Novak’s modern-y living room (are they putting on airs with this decor? Probably. ) Veronica is reading a strongly (you might say offensively) worded statement regarding how the Raleigh’s son, Benjamin, attacked the Novak’s son, Henry, resulting in the damage of the latter’s two incisors.

While the kids are discussed often in the ensuing 90 minutes (this is a one act, no intermission show), they never make an appearance. Instead the Novaks and the Raleighs discuss this “event” that brought them together literally ad nauseam, to wonderful effect. I love to keep an eye on where my free associating mind travels whenever I’m at a show, be it a Neil Diamond concert, a Broadway musical, a heavy movie, or a staged comedy. Here’s what I came up with for God of Carnage:  it’s sort of a mash-up of Elvis Costello’s Indoor Fireworks, a very light version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel. We’ve got four people who cannot seem to extract themselves from one another’s company despite the fact (or likely because of it) they are driving each other nuts (and to drink).

The brilliance in this show comes in part from the wonderful physical comedy. But more than anything, it comes in the way playwright Yasmina Reza (note: it was written in French and translated by Christopher Hampton) configures and reconfigures allegiances throughout the piece. One minute the Novaks are a united front. The next, Veronica will say something that Michael finds offensive and he’ll correct her, drawing support for one or the other Raleigh. This happens over and over as couples first concur then wildly disagree in different formations. This is going to be a stretch here, but did you ever see that little stacking magnet game? The metal pieces are shaped like tiny people and you can build them up and up but then they collapse on top of one another and you have to start again? Okay, THAT’S what these interactions reminded me of, people moving toward and away from each other like magnets pushing and pulling depending on which way they’re facing.

Something else I love about this show—you are welcome to enjoy it on the surface: four lunatic, hovering, longwinded, hilariously annoying adults getting entirely too embroiled in a kids’ brawl. Or, you can dig deeper. My joke as we were leaving was that I certainly learned some great new argument techniques from the show and I couldn’t wait to try them out at home on Warren. You should feel a little uncomfy watching God of Carnage—not too much but just enough. Think comfortably uncomfortable. Because if you are a human that has ever interacted with any other human ever in your life, and if you have ever gone from being enamored with someone to totally annoyed by them, you are going to be gazing into the looking glass here.

And while I sometimes enjoy such reflection as delivered by heavier, more serious works, I gotta say that being reminded in a comedic fashion of the folly that is Being Human is my favorite sort of comeuppance. None of us are any better than the rest of us. We might not be as annoying as the Novaks or the Raleighs, but to be certain we’ve all got our faults.

Big bravos to director Matt Lenz and all the players here-- each pulls their character’s weight wonderfully. I always have to give a special shout out to Lauren Lane who, for a couple of years, was wonderful enough to make time to be in my Dick Monologues. If you need any reminder of one major reason we are so lucky to live in Austin, go see her in this show or any show she does. Hell, go watch her wash the laundry. She is a great gift to the stage and in God of Carnage her wonderful performance is well matched by Lee, Rawna and Ward.

Really, awesome, y’all. Go see for yourself. 

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