If you’re eccentric enough to believe in the soothing power of culture then watching it unravel into a chaotic disarray of Neanderthal style behavior will surely be appealing to your eyes as the Tony Award-winning comedy God of Carnage comes to Everyman Theatre as its second production in their brand new location. An uproarious night of comic catastrophe spins its way onto the stage as two high-strung couples from the professional world meet for what is meant to be a civil discussion. It all starts when their two young sons get into a playground altercation and the parents meet to determine how best to handle the situation but it quickly slides down a slippery slope from polite subtly veiled insults to full-blown character assassination and explosive childish behaviors. Directed by Eleanor Holdridge, God of Carnage is one hysterical train-wreck blazing a trail of mayhem and madness straight to the end.
Scenic Designer Timothy R. Mackabee parallels the verbal carnage of what eventually occurs during the performance in his enormous painted mural on the wall. Serving as a prized painting of sorts in the Novak living room, Mackabee puts an intricately detailed scene of tactical warfare on display— dogs on the hunt terrorizing an individual wild animal. This, combined with the bright blood red walls, gives the audience a sense of ominous darkness that only scales the humor exponentially in this performance. Mackabee tempers these darker motifs with modern upscale furnishings to secure the notion that the Novak family comes from the esoterically aristocratic side of the tracks.
Effects Designer and Fight Choreographer Lewis Shaw ensures a wild ride from the explosive vomit to the thrilling round-the-room chase scenes. Shaw’s fight choreography is realistic and fast-paced landing struggles and blows with a rich genuine feeling to them; you forget you are watching actors on stage and believe you’re watching a hilarious domestic spat gone wrong. With women jumping on men and chasing each other around the room you’re bound to get a good hearty laugh from Shaw’s physical work in the production.
Director Eleanor Holdridge incorporates two resident company members into the production giving the show a true ‘Everyman’ feel to it. The integrity of intimacy is maintained in this quaint setting, reaching out to the audience and inviting them into the disaster that evolves right before your eyes. Holdridge takes pristine civility among the four actors and in a matter of 90 short minutes manages to de devolve it into pure bedlam – adults turned into the tantrum-throwing children that they’re meant to be discussing, all the while hitting key points of functional society and true opinions of how the world and people in the world really function.
The chemistry that ripples between these four actors is superb. The carefully constructed falsehoods, painted up to appear like political correctness and gentility are thinly veiled at best; a deep primal behavior roiling just beneath the surface, churning and winding little fissures into the surface niceties until all hell breaks loose. The two couples dance around the issues of childhood violence and how best to approach the situation with a more subtle humor but as the situation progresses the uproarious moments come to life; wives turning on husbands, enemies switching teams – the characters tumble about between one another so quickly jumping from side to side in this manic debate that it’s like watching flaming laundry spin about in a dryer.
Annette Raleigh (Megan Anderson) and Alan Raleigh (Tim Getman) are invited to the Novak household as their son is the perpetrator in the playground incident. Instantly the balance of power is displayed in Getman’s overbearing personality and Anderson’s meager and much milder mannered approach to the situation. Constantly sucked into the drama of his phone, Getman’s character is a hothead with a short fuse and the vocal explosions to prove it. His character generates a jarring energy that keeps him in perpetual motion, pacing about the stage, gesturing frantically with his hands and constantly blustering. His fiery defenses make for incredible comic moments particularly when he’s shouting into his phone, and they create a stark contrast to his meltdown later in the performance.
Anderson takes the exact opposite approach, going from mild to wild as the play unwinds. Her crowning achievement is the veracity with which she throws her body into spasms during her vomiting; looking almost as if she might be seizing. Her prim and polite manners fall by the wayside as the situation digresses and what starts as a bristly standoffish nature quickly proves itself to be a crackling fury loosed upon all present. The chase scene that results between her character and Getman is one of the funniest moments in the show.
Michael Novak (Christopher Bloch) and Veronica Novak (Deborah Hazlett) are the typical upper-crust family with their world peace priorities proudly on display. They have a fond working relationship that shows well in their polite banter and subtle gestures at one another, until everything starts breaking down. Bloch plays the composed slightly apathetic mild character who keeps his temper on an even keel. But when the situation blow up and he loses his cool it’s riotous. His language gets so colorful, echoed with such forceful exasperation in his voice that you can’t help but bust your gut laughing. The real problems all come out, blooming like fireworks bright in the sky and his temper flies hard and fast like the rest of them. Bloch shares moments with both Hazlett and Getman that become so laughable you’ll find yourself near tears.
Deborah Hazlett takes the role of most dynamic character on the stage. Her performance proves the overall theme that these four actors are simply primitive children with the tempers and tantrums of toddlers graced with a verbose vocabulary. The core of her performance is based in her stunning ability to respond to the situation. Every facial expression— regardless how shocked, exasperated, or furious, appears as if she’s making it for the first time; as if she’s actual experiencing the situation as a brand new event. This sort of responsive reacting makes her character captivating, pulling you deeply into her story. Hazlett’s character starts off restrained and reserved but quickly erupts like Vesuvius into a geyser of outrage and fury as the tensions mount exponentially throughout the production. A stellar performance of emotional highs and lows that will leave you rolling in your seats, begging for more.
If you take away nothing else from Everyman Theatre’s God of Carnage, you’ll take away a good hearty laugh and perhaps a little bit of understanding about how we really operate as individuals in society, but best to go see it soon, lest you get left behind in the carnage.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, with no intermission.